North Korea’s Hyesan-Samjiyon Railroad plagued with poor conditions, accidents 

North Korean soldiers head to a construction site on a cargo train
North Korean soldiers head to a construction site on a cargo train. Image: Daily NK

Accidents continue to plague a new railroad connecting Ryanggang Province’s cities of Hyesan and Samjiyon. Although the Hyesan-Samjiyon Railroad Line was built due to special interest from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, its current condition is so inadequate that trains cannot properly use it, local sources report.

“Accidents are occurring along the railroad that the Ryanggang 216 Division, Hyesan-Samjiyon Railroad Construction Brigade, and Railroad Ministry Regiment took charge of and completed. Accidents will probably continue to occur because the trackbed work for the 150 ri (59.91km) stretch of rail was not done properly,” a source in Ryanggang Province told Daily NK.

According to the source, the new railroad is not capable of carrying a train due to weakening of the ground, while accidents including tunnel blockages from the collapse of retaining walls continue to occur.

It has also been reported that the command unit in charge of the railroad construction is investigating the engineers and construction workers responsible for the shoddy construction.

“However, the residents who witnessed the accident said that they were not surprised because the workers were not adequately provided with the necessary materials like cement, steel and machines, and relied purely on manpower to finish the trackbed. Some residents are even saying that the commanding unit should be held accountable instead because they pressured the workers to speed up the construction,” said the source.

Construction of the Hyesan-Samjiyon Railroad Line began in 2015 and was completed in June 2018 as part of the Samjiyon County development project. However, during the course of construction several casualties were caused by explosions and rockslides, and after its opening, a number of residents were injured during a train derailment.

In response, Kim Jong Un visited Samjiyon County in August last year and criticized the poor quality of construction. “The trackbed work for the newly constructed Hyesan-Samjiyon was not done properly and the train shakes badly and is too slow,” he concluded.

He then took personal interest in the case, saying, “We have to finish the railroad’s trackbed repair work by next year (2019) and bring the Hyesan-Samjiyon Railroad Line up to standard.”

Due to international sanctions imposed on North Korea, the authorities have found it difficult to source construction materials and had to collect resources from local residents and mobilize shock troops to construct the railroad.

Phase two at the Samjiyon Construction Site.
Phase two at the Samjiyon Construction Site. Image: Rodong Sinmun

Meanwhile, a separate source in Ryanggang Province said that officials have promised to provide housing for those households located along the Hyesan-Samjiyon Railroad Line that were demolished to make way for the railroad, but the construction work for the new homes is being delayed, causing difficulties.

“Due to the construction of Samjiyon and the railroad, 1000 households were torn down. The construction of ten housing buildings began last year but not much progress has been made, so they are in a difficult situation,” he said.

After their houses were demolished, these so-called “migrant households” had to live in other people’s kitchens or live in makeshift subterranean homes through the winter. Some of them have suffered frostbite and others have lost household items.

The authorities are focused on developing Samjiyon County, which leader Kim Jong Un sees as his legacy project, but this has come at the expense of local residents.

“The authorities told residents that in the future, many tourists will be using the Hyesan-Samjion Railroad Line, and if they continue to live there, it will embarrass the country, so they should move away,” the source reported.

“The residents waited because they were told that the nation will provide them with homes but looking at the current circumstances, it won’t be likely this year.”

*Translated by Yongmin Lee

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