On a Sunday afternoon, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un boarded a classic green train that has come to symbolize the hermit nation’s isolation and secrecy.
Images released by North Korean state media KCNA captured Kim’s departure as he embarked on his private train for a journey to Russia, where a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin was anticipated. Meanwhile, the United States had issued warnings of a potential arms deal.
The precise details of the meeting’s timing and location remain unclear. However, Russian state media reported that Kim’s train had arrived in Russia and was currently traveling north through Russia’s far eastern region.
Photographs of Kim’s departure from Pyongyang showcased a train station adorned with a lengthy red carpet, meticulously lined with uniformed officials and attentive soldiers. Several officials respectfully bowed and shook hands with Kim, while in the background, women in traditional attire cheered and waved the North Korean flag.
Among the officials captured in the photographs were North Korea’s Foreign Minister Choe Sun Hui and Ri Pyong Chol, the vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the ruling Workers’ Party.
At one point, Kim and his entourage stood at the train’s entrance, acknowledging the crowd. This brief glimpse offered a peek into the heavily armored, slow-moving locomotive, featuring polished wooden floors and an ornate white doorway.
This green train has long been a subject of intrigue, serving as the mode of transportation for generations of the Kim family across the country and occasionally on rare overseas journeys.
Kim Jong Il, who reportedly had an aversion to flying, heavily relied on this train, in stark contrast to his son, Kim Jong Un, who has previously traveled on luxurious private jets and studied in Switzerland during the 1990s.
The same green train with yellow striping was observed in footage from Russian state media during Kim Jong Il’s visit to Russia in 2002. During that time, international sanctions on North Korea had temporarily eased, allowing for greater engagement with the outside world.
According to memoirs by former Russian official Konstantin Pulikovsky, based on a Russian Foreign Ministry note-taker’s report aboard the train during Kim Jong Il’s one-month journey across Russia in 2001, the train was a lavish affair. Pulikovsky claimed that the train was staffed by beautiful women and stocked with extravagant dishes and wine, although these accounts could not be independently verified.
Over the years, South Korean media reports have highlighted the train’s remarkable security features. A 2009 report in South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo revealed that the train was heavily armored, traveling at an average speed of 60 kilometers per hour (about 37 miles per hour). It boasted conference rooms, an audience chamber, bedrooms, satellite phone connections, and flat-screen televisions.
Despite its luxurious past, the train’s recent appearances have underscored North Korea’s diplomatic relationships with Russia and China, its primary international allies.
Kim’s train journey to Beijing in 2018 marked his first foreign trip since assuming power. He met with Chinese President Xi Jinping and other high-level officials during this visit.
Subsequently, Kim traveled to Beijing in January 2019, followed by a train journey to Vietnam for a meeting with then-US President Donald Trump in Hanoi. However, the Hanoi summit concluded without a deal or significant progress toward denuclearization.
In April 2019, Kim took the train to Vladivostok for his first meeting with Vladimir Putin. During that trip, North Korean workers at the Vladivostok station were observed meticulously cleaning the train’s exterior.
In 2022, North Korean state media released footage showing Kim working in his onboard office, providing rare glimpses of the leader in a more relaxed setting, smoking a cigarette while conversing with officials.
The iconic green train continues to play a significant role in Kim Jong Un’s diplomatic engagements, offering a unique blend of historical symbolism, luxury, and secrecy.