North Korea's railroad system, with over 7,400 kilometers (km) of track, is critical both to the North Korean economy and national defense, serving as the primary means for the country's long-haul cargo and passenger transportation.1
According to the official North Korea 2009 census, Wonsan city is North Korea's fifth-largest city by population size and is the capital of Kangwon province on North Korea's east coast. The city also serves as an important transportation hub with a relatively good highway connection to Pyongyang, an airport, a port, and the Kangwon railway line. Wonsan is best known to the world as a tourist destination. Its importance as such is highlighted by Kim Jong-un's specific mention in his 2018 New Year's address calling for completion "in the shortest period of time" of the Wonsan-Kalma tourist area and paying a visit to give on-the-spot guidance in the spring. This has interesting implications for the economic development of industry in the city as large industrial expansion seems unlikely.2 Even so, Wonsan is home to a handful of light and heavy industries with a dozen or so important companies, including the Wonsan Rolling Stock Complex. The city's industries include steel, shipbuilding, cement, shoes, textiles, tractors, fisheries, and others. There are also a number of universities and at least one research institute in Wonsan. Wonsan's port boasts the greatest length of dock space in the country at approximately 3,166 meters. (Though the port's cargo and coal handling capacity is significantly less than the ports in Chongjin and Nampho.)
Despite being eclipsed in recent news by the tourist zone development, the Wonsan Railway Rolling Stock Complex plays an important role in the city as well as in the regional and national economies. As efforts progress to modernize and reconnect the eastern transportation corridor between North and South Korea under the April 27 Panmunjeom Declaration, a joint declaration for peace, prosperity, and unification, the railcars produced and serviced at the complex could play an increasingly important role. The Wonsan Rolling Stock Complex is one of just five major industrial facilities that undertake railcar production and depot-level repairs for the nationwide network.
Of these national facilities, the Wonsan Railway Rolling Stock Complex is the largest manufacturing and repair facility for railroad railcars (also called rolling stock) in the nation. It also undertakes repairs to diesel, electric, and steam locomotives, although it is not known to produce them. As such it represents an indispensable component of both North Korea's economy and national defense.3
Located in the southern section of the port city of Wonsan, Kangwon Province, adjacent to the Kalma Rail Station, the Wonsan Railway Rolling Stock Complex (39.140053 127.475910) manufactures and repairs railway rolling stock; repairs steam, diesel, and electric locomotives; and produces railcar and locomotive components and sub-systems. As of June 2018, commercial satellite imagery shows that the complex is active and appears well maintained by North Korean standards.
Although North Korean media presents a picture of the facility working at full potential, the production capacity and actual output levels for the Wonsan Railway Rolling Stock Complex are unknown. Some dated reports indicate a possible annual production capacity of up to 200 passenger and 2,000 freight cars.4
Commercial satellite imagery and domestic reporting with ground imagery indicate that the complex produces or repairs a wide range of railcars, including 40-ton flat cars, 60-, 100-, and potentially 125-ton ore cars, box/refrigerator, two-bay hopper (covered and uncovered), log/lumber, gondolas, passenger cars, and tank. Although none were seen in either satellite and ground imagery, the complex likely produces and repairs specialized maintenance-of-way (MoW) and industrial cars. Additionally, it repairs locomotives (diesel, electric, and steam). The complex may also engage in small-scale scrapping of railcars and locomotives, and the recovery of reusable components.5
In addition to its production and repair responsibilities, the Wonsan Railway Rolling Stock Complex serves as a center for railroad technical research and development. Scientists and technicians from the complex work with researchers from the Railway Science Branch of the State Academy of Sciences and publish their work in North Korean scientific and technical journals.6
Attesting to the complex's importance to the nation over the years, Kim Il-song, Kim Jong-il, and senior officials have visited the factory on a number of occasions and it has been frequently mentioned in North Korean media.7 There are, however, no readily available reports of Kim Jong-un visiting the factory since he came to power. Among the senior leaders to have visited the complex in recent years was Choe Ryong Hae, vice-chairman of the State Affairs Commission, and vice-chairman of the Worker's Party of Koreas Central Committee.8
The complex encompasses an irregular-shaped, fenced-in area of approximately 540,000 m2 (133 acres) and can be broken down into three functional areas: administration, engineering, and support; manufacturing and repair; and rail yard.
The administrative facilities are generally concentrated along the southwest side of the complex. The manufacturing and repair facilities occupy the center of the complexmost notably 10 large assembly, repair, and fabrication halls. These halls are connected by two rail transfer tablesthe largest being approximately 420-meters-longthat move heavy parts, subassemblies, and railcars from building to building or between bays in the same building.
The engineering and support facilities (fabrication shops, forges/foundries, sheds, greenhouse, miscellaneous structures) are located along the northwest side and south-central section of the facility. These support facilities reportedly use some computer numerically controlled (CNC) equipment and appear to manufacture almost all the components (e.g., road wheels, trucks, springs, couplers) from both semi-finished components and raw materials required for production and repair operations.9 On the north side of this section is a basin used for storing logs before they are brought into the adjacent woodworking shop. There are also several greenhouses located around the complex and what appears to be a water treatment plant in the southeast corner.
The rail yard is stub-ended and is served by a compound ladder with approximately 20 tracks of various lengths and functions (e.g., shipping, receiving, holding, classification). In the center of the rail yard is an open-air storage yard. Immediately north of the complex is a separate facility that appears to be for locomotive servicing (e.g., fueling, sanding, washing, minor maintenance). It is unclear if this is formally part of the complex.
Commercial satellite imagery from 2014 through 2018 shows that the total number of railcars observed at the complex has varied from a high of 88 on December 22, 2014, to a low of 59 on June 6, 2018 (these numbers include the adjacent engine servicing facility).10 This should not necessarily be taken as an indication of slowing output at the complex as each image examined for this report shows both significant differences in the numbers and types of railcars present and their positioning within the facility. Instead, this suggests a dynamic production and repair facility responding to shifting demands for rolling stock and the availability of semi-finished products and raw material. For example, among the railcars present in a December 2014 image were approximately 29 ore cars/gondolas, 12 boxcars, and 28 passenger cars. In a June 2018 image there were approximately 17 ore cars/gondolas, 22 boxcars, and 9 passenger cars. As railcar production and repair are heavily dependent upon steel, and to a lesser degree upon iron and aluminum, fluctuations in the supply of these materials undoubtedly affect the output at the Wonsan Railway Rolling Stock Complex.
None of the North Korean media ground imagery reviewed for this report shows either modern manufacturing equipment or techniques employed at the Wonsan Railway Rolling Stock Complex. Therefore, the production output is likely significantly lower in quantity and quality to similar-sized facilities in Asia or the West. Additionally, this ground imagery shows a facility that is in need of significant infrastructure maintenance and numerous unaddressed safety issues. Should foreign financial investment be directed to the complex in the future, a substantial amount will likely be absorbed in addressing these issues before any meaningful profit be realized.
Obvious in summer or fall imagery of the complex is that a significant portion of all open spaces is being used for gardening. Such gardening is typical of large industrial facilities in North Korea; however, unlike the Chongjin Railway Factory, the tracks at the Wonsan Railway Rolling Stock Complex are generally well maintained, ballasted, and relatively clear of gardening activity, indicating active use.
1. See also Hsun, Chiang, Hong Kong Businessman Breaks Bottleneck of China-North Korea Railway Transportation, Yazhou Zhoukan, October 29, 2005, http://www.yzzk.com
2. North Korea's 2013 "General blueprint for the Wonsan District" laid out plans to close aging factories in order to create zones for tourism. (Rainer Dormels, "North Korea's Cities," Jimoongdang, Seoul, 2014.)
3. Central Intelligence Agency, "CIA Facebook: Korea, North," https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/kn.html, accessed April 25, 2018; and Chiang Hsun, "Hong Kong Businessman Breaks Bottleneck of China-North Korea Railway Transportation," Yazhou Zhoukan, October 2005, No. 44, http://www.yzzk.com.
4. Dormels, "North Korea's Cities."
5. "New Heavy-duty Wagon Manufactured in DPRK," KCNA, December 1, 2016; and Namgung Yong, North Korea's Industrial Infrastructure(Seoul: North Korea Research Team), Research Report No. 94-05, February 26, 1996.
6. Scientists and technicians from the complex have mentioned numerous times in North Korean media. For example, KCNA, December 15, 2017; Palmyo'ng Kongbo, October 5, 2005, 41; Kisul Hyo'ksin, November 5, 2005, 23; Palmyo'ng Kongbo, July 5, 2005, 52; Kisul Hyo'ksin, July 5, 2005, 36; and Kisul Hyo'ksin, March 5, 2005, 14. The facility's technical achievements have been noted since then. For example, Ji Nam Il, Sim Hyon Jin, and Pang Un Hye, "Nation's Arterial Industry in Good Maintenance," Korea Today, Juche 108, No. 4, April 2009 and KCTV, May 2, 2018.
7. For example, KCNA, January 19, 2007; KCTV, November 26, 2002; and KCBS, October 23, 2002.
8. "Choe Ryong Hae Inspects Units in Kangwon Province," KCNA, June 22, 2017
9. "Kangwon Province of DPRK Hastens Economic Construction," KCNA, July 2016.
10. These numbers should be viewed as approximations as they only count the railcars present within the complex and engine servicing facility, not the adjacent Kalma Rail Station and holding yard. Additionally, the numbers do not account for the limited number of satellite images reviewed or seasonality. A more comprehensive study would likely provide a more nuanced understanding and reveal an explanation for the apparent decline.
The Ministry of Railways also exercises control over the rail network including research and development, education and training, security, railroad operations, acquisition, and production. The Korean State Railway conducts rail operations through at least six regional bureaus—Chongjin, Hamhung, Kaechon, Pyongyang, Naseon, and Sariwon. Subordinate to these regional rail bureaus are more than 20 secondary repair shops and 50 engine houses located along the rail network throughout the nation that undertake minor repairs and routine maintenance. The Wonsan Railway Rolling Stock Complex is believed to be directly subordinate to the Ministry of Railways; however, its location in Wonsan means that it works closely with the Wonsan Railway Bureau.
Previous names for the Wonsan Railway Rolling Stock Complex have included the KaIma Railroad Plant, Wonsan Railroad Factory, and 4 June Rolling Stock Works (sometimes referred to in English as the 4 June Rolling-Stock Works, June 4 General Rolling-Stock Works, or Wŏnsan Railroad Car Manufacturing and Rolling Stock Repair Plant). Today the complex is sometimes referred to in English as the Wonsan Railroad Car Manufacturing and Rolling Stock Repair Plant or Wo'san Railway Rolling Stock Complex.
Source(s): Picture - Manufacturing operations for ore cars inside an assembly hall at the Wonsan Railway Rolling Stock Complex. A two-axle rail truck is seen in the foreground. (Rodong Sinmun, March 15, 2017), 11. Part 1 Chongjin report, 12. For example, “Overflowing with conviction to powerfully wage an all-out assault and brilliantly conclude this year's battle,” Rodong Sinmun, October 15, 2012, 4; “Pyongyang Rolling Stock Repair Plant,” KCBS, November 27, 2007; Hwang Myo'ng-hu'i, “Level Arm Tower Crane Produced at the Pyongyang Elevator Factory,” Rodong Sinmun, October 6, 2005, 5; Yi Kyong-hwa, “Blow the Whistle of Innovation High for a Turnaround in the Railway Transport!,” Rodong Sinmun, May 11, 1999, 3; and “Day of Railway Workers,” KCNA, May 11, 1998. There are numerous English-language variations for the names for these five facilities. Among the more common are Kim Chong-T'ae Electric Locomotive General Enterprise, Kim Chong-t'ae General Electric Locomotive Works, Kim Jong Thae General Electric Locomotive Works, June 4 General Rolling-Stock Works, 6 July General Railway Factory, July 6 General Railway Factory, 7.6 Vehicle Parts Factory, and the Pyongyang Rolling Stock Repair Works., 13. The Naseon Railway Bureau is sometimes identified by its older name of Najin Railway Bureau. The KPA and Guard Command exercise some level of control over rail operations that involve the rail movements of Kim Jong-un or military cargos. Author interview data; Oh Jae-hwan, “Security Agencies of North Korea under the Kim Jong Un Regime,” Korean Journal of Defense Analysis, Vol. 26, No. 1, March 2014, 117–131., “Trip Report North Korea October 2004,” accessed January 4, 2009, Kim Chong-min. “The Real State of North Korea's Military Roads and Transportation Equipment,” Pukhan, November 1997, 121–133.
Source(s): 14. "Changes in Kangwon Province," Korea Today, Juche 96, No. 3, March 2007., 15. Ji Nam Il, Sim Hyon Jin, and Pang Un Hye, "Nation's Arterial Industry in Good Maintenance," Korea Today, Juche 108, No. 4, April 2009., 16. "New Heavy-duty Wagon Manufactured in DPRK," KCNA, December 1, 2016; KCTV, May 2, 2018; “Signal Successes Reported from Pilot Sectors of National Economy,” KCNA, January 17, 2011; KCBS, September 29, 2010; and KCBS, March 28, 2010.
Source(s): 17. Ch’o’llima, No. 4, April 5, 2005, 33.
Throughout the following four years, numerous reports in North Korean media suggested that significant efforts were being undertaken to restore production and output at the 4 June Rolling Stock Complex and throughout the rail sector. On October 21, 2002, Kim Chong-il gave on-the-spot guidance at the complex reinforcing the importance of its work and encouraging the workers to greater productivity. Other resources were mobilized and during 2002–2003 to support recovery, Yang Yong-nok, a deputy director within the Ministry of Labor, and other members of the ministry were assigned to the 4 June Rolling Stock Plant to assist with labor administration and propaganda. More significantly, they arranged for on-the-job training for workers. Admitting to the continuing challenges faced within the rail sector, and that Kim Chong-il was concerned about them, Rodong Sinmun published an article in April 2003 that stated, “In recent years, the great general has energetically led the work for development of the railway transport, although everything was in short supply and everything was difficult.”
Source(s): Picture - Inside a metal working shop at the Wonsan Railway Rolling Stock Complex showing what appear to be axles for railcar trucks being turned are large laths. (Korea, January 2003), 18. Korean Central Broadcasting Network, December 2, 2000., 19. KCTV, November 26, 2002, and KCTV, October 24, 2002., 20. Yi Chu-kyong, "Setting and Propagating Examples at the Ministry of Labor," Minju Choson, November 19, 2003, 1., 21. "Let Us Develop the Railway Transportation Work in Line with the Demands of the Developments of Reality," Nodong Sinmun, April 5, 2003, 1.
Source(s): Picture - A North Korean billboard showing the layout of the Wonsan Railway Rolling Stock Complex back when it was the 4 June Rolling Stock Works (Korea, January 2003)., 22. Korean Central Broadcasting Network, June 24, 1997.
Source(s): Picture - A declassified KH-9 mapping camera image of the then 4 June Rolling Stock Works taken on September 30, 1980 showing the expansion on the east side of the facility. (CIA), 23. “The Significance and Implications of the North-South Railway Linkage Project,” 27-95., 24. Complete Book of Korean Geography - Kangwon Province (Pyongyang), 1990, 442.
The composition of the Wonsan Railroad Factory underwent several minor infrastructure changes during the 1960s and early 1970s as indicated by declassified KH-4A image and reports. For example, between November 1967 and October 1969, the facility was extended on the north side to accommodate construction of a holding yard.
Source(s): Picture - A declassified KH-4A image of the then Wonsan Railroad Factory taken on August 23, 1965 showing its post-Korean War layout. (CIA), 25. Central Intelligence Agency, "Economic - Awards to Transportation Workers, May 21, 1950., Central Intelligence Agency, "Major Buildings and Other Installations in Wonsan," August 13, 1956., U.S. Air Force, "Urban Area Report, Wonsan, North Korea," February 1958., Central Intelligence Agency, "Installations in Wonsan City," June 17, 1959., 26. Central Intelligence Agency, "Wonsan Railroad Car Manufacturing and Rolling Stock Repair Plant," June 1971., 27. Ibid
Source(s): Picture - A declassified map from 1956 of the Wonsan area showing the general location of the Wonsan Railroad Factory and Kalm Rail Station. (CIA), 28. Central Intelligence Agency, "Wonsan Railroad Car Manufacturing and Rolling Stock Repair Plant," June 1971., 29. KCNA, January 19, 2007.
Wonsan Facility Description
Railcars of Wonsan
North Korea Major Railways
This is a follow-up report on North Korea's major railway facilities. See related report on Chongjin Railcar Factory.