Most world leaders visiting other countries make a grand entrance by stepping off a large jet. For North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, it’s a slow-chugging train that looks like something from a bygone era.
Kim gave no hints that he was planning a trip this week to China – his first foreign visit since assuming power in 2011 – and while his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping was nothing short of historic, his mode of transportation has stirred just as much curiosity.
Few details of the train’s current state are known, but the string of dark green carriages adorned with yellow stripes suggest it’s the same one used both by his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, and his father, Kim Jong Il, who reportedly threw lavish dinners aboard.
According to a 2009 report in South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo, Kim Jong Il’s train was 90 carriages long and was so heavily armored, it traveled at an average speed of 60 kilometers an hour (about 37 miles mph).
“Kim’s train is armored and also contains conference rooms, an audience chamber and bedrooms. Satellite phone connections and flat screen TVs have been installed so that the North Korean leader can be briefed and issue orders,” the paper reported at the time.
“Before Kim’s train nears the station, the power on other tracks is shut off so that no other trains can move,” the report said.
In Kim Jong Il’s time, some 20 stations were built for the family train, according to the report.
Before this week, the most recent international train trip reported was in August 2011, months before the elder Kim’s death, when he visited Moscow to meet with then-President Dmitry Medvedev.
Journey of extravagant dishes and wine detailed
A New York Times report from 2002 said that memoirs by former Russian official Konstantin Pulikovsky purported that Kim Jong Il had his train conducted by beautiful women and loaded with extravagant dishes and wine.
”It was possible to order any dish of Russian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese and French cuisine,” Pulikovsky wrote, according to the report.
His account drew largely on a report that was supposed to be confidential by a note taker from the Russian foreign ministry, who was onboard during Kim’s one-month ride across Russia in 2001, according to the Times.
Live lobsters were taken to train stations along the route, Pulikovsky wrote in his memoirs, and cases of Bordeaux and Burgundy red wines were reportedly delivered, too.
CNN could not independently verify The New York Times account or the South Korean report detailing the Kim family train.
According to the Chosun Ilbo report, a train journey for Kim Jong Il was far more complicated than making simple stops. One train would run ahead of the leader to conduct reconnaissance, and another would follow to provide security, according to the paper.
The security train would check whether the train tracks were in good order, while the one behind would carry the leader’s bodyguard and other support staff. A security team would often sweep railways for explosives beforehand.
And aircraft would follow Kim’s train along the way for additional security, and to carry staff and any extra equipment.