Kim Jong Un’s visit to Beijing

Mystery train - bulletproof and with a choice of cuisines

Mr Kim meeting Chinese officials inside a special train in an undisclosed location on Tuesday. The train he travelled in to Beijing was painted in drab green, and had 21 cars that were bulletproof. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waving from his trai
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waving from his train during an unofficial visit to Beijing in this undated photo released by the Korean Central News Agency yesterday.PHOTO: REUTERS
Mr Kim meeting Chinese officials inside a special train in an undisclosed location on Tuesday. The train he travelled in to Beijing was painted in drab green, and had 21 cars that were bulletproof. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waving from his trai
Mr Kim meeting Chinese officials inside a special train in an undisclosed location on Tuesday. The train he travelled in to Beijing was painted in drab green, and had 21 cars that were bulletproof. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

HONG KONG • The mysterious train that pulled into Beijing's central train station on Monday night is now known to have been carrying North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Painted in drab green, the train with 21 cars bore the hallmarks of the bulletproof private transports preferred by the country's mistrustful leaders. Here is what is known about the train:

POWERFUL, BUT RATHER SLOW

Much of what is known comes from intelligence reports, recollections of officials permitted to travel on board in previous eras and rare state news media footage.

There are believed to be at least 90 high-security carriages at the leader's disposal, according to a 2009 South Korea news report that relied on classified information.

According to the report, written during the era of Mr Kim's father, Mr Kim Jong Il, three trains operate each time the leader travels: an advance security train, the leader's train and a third carrying additional bodyguards and supplies.

Each of the carriages is bulletproof, making them thousands of kilogrammes heavier than average. That additional weight translates to a slow ride. The trains are estimated to reach a maximum speed of just 59kmh.

In Mr Kim Jong Il's time, according to the 2009 report, 100 security officers travelled in the advance train, searching stations for bombs and other threats, and testing the safety of the track. Additionally, military helicopters and airplanes would fly overhead to provide more security.

LOBSTER, WINE AND 'LADY CONDUCTORS'

The late Mr Kim Jong Il was rumoured to have had a fear of flying and preferred to travel on his train, which was outfitted with modern communications technology and a large staff that catered to his whims. "It was possible to order any dish of Russian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese and French cuisine," wrote Mr Konstantin Pulikovsky, a Russian official who travelled with the late leader during a 2011 trip through Russia.

Mr Kim Jong Il also insisted that live lobster and other fresh delicacies be delivered to the train as it crossed Siberia on trips to Russia.

When bored, the late leader relied on a group of female entertainers known as lady conductors to serenade him in Korean and Russian.

TRAGEDY ON THE TRACKS

More than 3,000 people were killed in Ryongchon, near the Chinese border, in 2004 when trains laden with combustible material exploded because of a collision or an electrical malfunction.

There were initial rumours that the explosion was part of an attempt on Mr Kim Jong Il's life because the leader's train had passed through the town hours earlier.

According to the state news media, he would later die on board his train after a heart attack in 2011.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 29, 2018, with the headline 'Mystery train - bulletproof and with a choice of cuisines'. Print Edition | Subscribe