North Korean leader Kim Jong-il – known for shunning air travel – has six luxurious trains equipped with reception halls, conference rooms and hi-tech communication facilities, a South Korean newspaper reported yesterday.
There are 19 stations across North Korea exclusively for Mr Kim's trains, which have a total of some 90 carriages, the Chosun Ilbo newspaper said, citing an analysis by South Korean and US intelligence authorities.
Mr Kim reportedly uses the trains when he makes inspection visits to army units and factories or travels abroad. His train travels with two others: one runs ahead to check the safety of railway lines, while the second carries security agents and follows behind. Mr Kim's train usually travels at 37mph (60kph), the newspaper said.
Chosun Ilbo said the intelligence on the fleet of trains was obtained by spy satellites and reconnaissance planes and the testimonies of defectors. The National Intelligence Service – South Korea's main spy agency – and the US military command in Seoul said they couldn't confirm the report.
Each train is armoured. The paper quoted an unidentified source as saying that security measures on the trains were boosted after a train explosion in 2004 that killed about 160 and injured some 1,300. The blast in the town of Ryongchon near the border with China was believed to be on a train laden with oil and chemicals that hit power lines. But the explosion occurred hours after Mr Kim reportedly passed through the station after a visit to China, sparking speculation that it might have been an assassination attempt.
The reclusive Mr Kim rarely travels abroad – and only under tight security, and avoiding planes. He last visited China in 2006, though state media recently reported that the Chinese President, Hu Jintao, has invited him to visit again. It is not clear when or even if the 67-year-old Mr Kim, who reportedly suffered a stroke last year, will accept the invitation.