September 27, 2023

The decline and fall of North Korea’s once-great railways

Despite talk of major Russian investment, the future of the DPRK's trains is bleak

Communist countries loved their railways. In all Communist Bloc countries, (or, if you prefer, "countries of really existing socialism"), the railway's role was, should we say, blown out of all proportion. For example, in the USSR of 1975, the railway's share of cargo transportation was 62% (higher, actually, than it had been in 1913), while for passenger traffic the figure in 1980 was 38%.

One can argue that the vast territory and low population density of the Soviet Union played a role, but the same predisposition towards rail can be found in nearly all other communist states – and, as we will see, it is especially pronounced in the case of North Korea.