Russian Railway Expands North Korean Connection
Published: October 9, 2013 (Issue # 1781)
RAJIN, North Korea — Russia has opened an upgraded rail link with North Korea, a first step to re-animate the Trans-Korean Mainline, which could once again unite the two countries, but the question remains as to whether these changes can transform the Communist state that is still living in the past.
Blazing a path for possible interaction by businessmen of other nations, Russian executives had mixed reactions to the experience of investing, building and running a project in North Korea.
“It was quite difficult to work here because of all these rules and regulations. After a month, the atmosphere seemed almost unbearable,” said Yury Loskutnikov, head of a Russian state company in North Korea that was involved in the construction works in the country.
But Aleksei Shvets, an RZhD-stroi worker who was a Russian expat in North Korea for three years, rotating in and out on shifts while building the railroad, said he did not experience problems with the regime.
“You just have to follow certain rules, that is all,” he said.
A Korean Communist party member, standing near Shvets as he talked, smiled knowingly.
Visiting Russian dignitaries, along with a band of international journalists, who came for the opening ceremony, got firsthand exposure to the unique atmosphere the secretive nation offers.
Once the special “early sparrow” train heading to inspect the newly built rail line connecting Hasan on the Russian border and the North Korean port Rajin rolled across the border, it was met by a polite Korean customs officer.
“Computer? Camera? Telephone?” he inquires, quickly glancing around the train compartment.
Computers and cameras are written down in the customs declaration and allowed to enter the country. Cell phones are another story. We were told that, if found, they might be confiscated by customs. Most left them at Hasan station, the last outpost in Russia before the crossing. The mobile signal would be dead in North Korea anyway, as those brave enough to keep their phones soon find out.
The polite customs officer, speaking passable Russian, wishes us all the best, but bundles up and takes away our passports, to be returned on the way back. And so we enter one of the most closed countries in the world.
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