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Kim used small-town station for Russia trip

Apr 30,2019
The departure and welcome ceremonies for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who visited Vladivostok, Russia, for a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week, were held at Kyongsong Station near Chongjin in the country’s North Hamgyong Province, South Korean government sources told the JoongAng Ilbo Monday.

There was much speculation over where Kim departed from because North Korean state media had left out his exact departure location, only reporting that the leader left “by a private train at dawn on Wednesday to visit the Russian Federation.” This was seen as an indication he did not leave from Pyongyang Station, which was also backed by photographs that showed a different departure location.

On his return early Saturday after his summit in Vladivostok, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that Kim, upon his return from Russia’s Far East by train, was enthusiastically greeted by people of North Hamgyong, a northeastern province.

In Kim’s previous visits by his armored train to China and Vietnam, state media reported that he departed from Pyongyang Station. There had been media speculation last week that Kim and his entourage departed from Hamhung Station in South Hamgyong Province, but government sources indicated that Kim actually departed from and arrived back at Kyongsong Station, some 34 kilometers (21 miles) south of the port city of Chongjin.

A government source said, “Analysis of the photographs released by North Korean media, the platform had a rooftop, and the direction of the special train heading to Russia, all line up with it being Kyongsong Station.”

Videos of the platform and surrounding facilities indeed confirm that it is Kyongsong.

“There are indications that Chairman Kim’s personal train headed from Pyongyang to Kyongsong on April 22,” said another official. “North Korean railroad conditions are not good, so taking into consideration that it takes some 24 hours to travel from Pyongyang to Vladivostok, it appears that the delegation [to Russia] and officials for the send-off ceremony departed ahead of time to the region and rested for a while before departing.”

The departure location and time, including a stopover, was likely decided after taking into consideration the distance and duration from Pyongyang to Vladivostok by train. Kim arrived in Vladivostok around 6 p.m. local time last Wednesday.

Earlier that day, Kim would have departed from Kyongsong Station shortly after midnight and arrived around 6 a.m. at Tumangang Station, bordering North Korea and Russia by the Tumen River. The train would have changed wheels at the border station to match the Russian railway tracks, a process which takes around three hours. Kyongsong Station can be considered a top-tier railway station suitable for personal use by the North Korean leader, according to analysts.

“North Korea, for the safety and comfort of its leader, runs No. 1 train stations,” said Ahn Byung-min, a senior researcher at the Korea Transport Institute. “Kyongsong can be considered just a small town in North Korea, but the train station platform has a roof and special features like night lighting installations, which show that it is in fact a No. 1 train station.”

BY JEONG YONG-SOO, SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]