The North Korean railway system, a popular form of public transportation, is the latest mechanism through which the authorities are raking in profits. Railway officials are charging more than 100 times the regular
state price for tickets on the most popular routes– a move specifically targeting the donju [new affluent middle
class] and their money.
“Following orders handed down
from the Ministry of Railways, diesel engines
started towing train cars at the beginning this year, allowing the trains to run on time,“ a source in North Hamkyung Province reported to Daily NK on March
4th. “Previously it was hard to operate the 23~24
trains, which run between Pyongyang and Chongjin, due to shortages of electricity. However, this problem was solved by utilizing diesel engines that replaced the
He went on to explain that diesel engines, free from reliance on electricity, allow trains to depart and arrive on time despite shortages in power. Needless to say, this reliable option is extremely popular, particularly among those reliant on them to do business, which the railways are using to their advantage by charging exorbitant fees for their services.
“A limited number of tickets for these trains are sold in
the official railway offices for 1,300 KPW [10 RMB] to regular customers. But it’s all a facade. Behind the scenes, dozens of women are being mobilized
to sell tickets for 100 times the actual price,” he
said. “It’s already difficult
enough for most travelers to purchase tickets for a train bound for Chongjin
from Pyongyang, and now the only real option is to get them on the
black market, where the cost is exponentially higher.”
In this burgeoning black market arena, ticket prices have skyrocketed 100
RMB [135,000 KPW] and make up 80% of total sales; only 20% of ticket sales take place at official train station ticketing offices. Areas surrounding the stations are filled with female brokers selling tickets, who, according to the source, constantly holler out, “Get your ticket for the express train—100 RMB!”
For the donju, trains serve as an integral part of their business operations–and time is money. “Trains other than the Pyongyang-Chongjin
train take more than fifteen days to travel 800 km,” the source explained. “Late
last month, it took a 9~10 train from Pyongyang bound for Musan twenty days to
arrive at its destination.”
The 7~8 train, which runs from Pyongyang to the Tumen River, was originally an international express bound
to Russia, while the 9~10 train transported civil servants to various locations for international business trips. The 23~24 train, however, is the most widely used train in modern North Korea, designated specifically for business purposes since the proliferation of market activity at the start of the 21st century.