North Korean People and Train to be Seen Again in Ten Years

[imText1]Recently scenes of people catching train in North Korea have been caught in video.

Democracy Network Against North Korean Gulag ( showed to the public the scenes of North Korean people getting on freight trains to travel in near Sino-Korean border area on June 22.

The video contains scenes of Shin Chun station located in Huiryeong city of North Hamkyung province, which was taken from Kaishantun region of Jilin in China this April. In the video, we can see the people getting on the top of a freight train full of coal.

It also shows people running with sacks on their shoulders running to catch the train, in which we can roughly see North Korea’s energy situation of today.

We met defector Shin Young Ok in Tunman, China on June 13, to hear about railroad situation in North Korea. She said she worked at the △△ station of North Hamkyung province for seven years until this January as ticket seller and defected to China in February.

The following is one to one interview with Ms. Shin.

Train Comes Once in 2-3 Days because of the Energy Crisis

How is the current situation of the North Korean train?

In the △△ station where I worked, train came in once in 2-3 days. Usually they were freight trains, and passenger train rarely came. Trains come so rarely because they cannot afford electricity.

How is the current situation in compare to the period of food crisis in the late 1990s?

Years of 97, 98 and 99 were the hardest. During that time, train did not come in for 15 days or more. Once a freight train arrived, so many people boarded on the roof that many people died because they fell down. Some died electrified and some died because they fell down while the train was running.

What is the usual method of getting on the train?

When a train is scheduled to come in, the tickets are sold from 15-20 minutes before its arrival. You can only buy the train tickets if you have a certificate (travel permit). During the food crisis the tickets did not say seat number but now they do, so you can no longer sell that many tickets at once. Those who do not have certificate or could not buy the tickets usually give some money to the employees at the station and take the train in secret.

If they have seat tickets, do they also have standing tickets?

They also have standing tickets, but whether with a seat or not the price is the same.

Do you also have a cart on the train with beds?

Sometimes a train with beds comes in. The tickets for bed are expensive. You could say they are five or six times more expensive than the usual tickets. There are three beds on each side (of the wall), so six people use one room.

Price of Tickets Increase Thirty Times in Five Years

How much is a ticket?

It costs about 3 won per station, and this is the state set price. From Namyang to Chungjin use to cost about 5won 70jun but now it costs over 150won. The price increased over thirty times within five years.

For the train to Pyongyang, there is only limited number of tickets in each local area. That is why it is so difficult to obtain tickets to Pyongyang. State set price from Hamkyung province to Pyongyang would usually cost 1,000won but if you bribe workers at the station with cigarettes and money, you usually end up spending about 8,000won.

Are there many people taking train?

Since there are more freight cars now, people taking train decreased. In order to decrease number of people taking train, the state increased price of the ticket a lot. Since trains do not come in regularly, people doing business usually take cars, but there are still many people taking the train even through bribing.

Tell us details of inside of a passenger train.

These days they changed all the window glass of the trains. In each cart, there are about forty seats, and in each seat two people can sit. There are also people standing. In the train there are many political slogans hanging and there are official sellers who sell candies or cookies.

Monthly Wage of a Ticket Seller Only Enough to Buy 1kg of Rice

How did you become a ticket seller in a train station?

I graduated from Chungjin Railway Professional School and was placed at △△ station to work. There are one year course and three year course at the Professional school, and I graduated three year course. Although other people graduated from common universities could also be employed at train stations, but although wage is the same, those who graduated from professional school get promoted faster.

Did you receive wage?

My first wage was 30won and I received up to 70 won in 2002. With that much money, I could only buy 1kg of rice. Apart from wage, they also gave some food. Then starting in 2003, they stopped food distribution and the wage was not given regularly. Since wage did not come from the state, each station distributed little amount of money from selling the tickets and the money it received from freight trains. However it was not much so that money hardly reached the sellers.

What did you do with that money? Did you do your own business?

The employees of a station has to be at the station everyday even when the trains do not come in. For that reason I could not even start a business. I also sold some tickets to people who reserved ticket beforehand by receiving some extra money. I did not starve because my family helped me.

What was your reason to leave North Korea?

My brother and my mother came out (of North Korea) and settled down in China last year. Since I could not make a living in North Korea alone and I wanted to be with my family, I defected.

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