North Korea’s reclusive dictator has made his first foreign trip as leader of the pariah state on board a bulletproof train dubbed the ‘Kim Jong-un Express’.
Speculation over a surprise visit to China erupted after Kim’s mystery train – which is so heavy it can only travel 37mph – was spotted at Beijing’s central station.
It appeared to be the same armored transport his father, Kim Jong-il, used for lavish parties during trips to China or Russia – reportedly with lobster, cases of French wine and female entertainers known as ‘lady conductors’.
Painted olive green and yellow, the one-of-a-kind luxury train is said to carry a small army of bodyguards and bulletproof cars that can usher the ‘supreme leader’ to safety if he is attacked.
The private train’s specially-crafted carriages are reinforced with a coat of armor and have tinted windows to hide those on board.
A total of 21 carriages arrived in Beijing on Monday ahead of Kim’s secret talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Along the way, the luxury train would have passed small villages where Kim’s people are living in poverty and squalor.
Kim, who made the unofficial visit with his wife Ri Sol-ju, was pictured waving from an open window on the train.
The Asahi Shimbun
Accounts from former passengers and South Korean news reports have revealed some of the train’s secrets.
Its carriages have been customized to include conference rooms, bedrooms, a dining car, an office car and reception facilities, and are kitted out with flat-screen televisions, computers and satellite phones.
According to South Korean media, the leader has about 90 fortified carriages at its disposal.
Three trains were used when Kim’s father made long-distance journeys. He traveled in the middle train, the Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported in 2009.
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The first train carried about 100 security personnel who searched stations further ahead for bombs and tested track safety to make sure the rails weren’t sabotaged.
The train following behind the late leader’s carriage carried more bodyguards and supplies.
The travelling entourage would be accompanied on trips within North Korea by military helicopters and planes to look for potential threats.
It was claimed the elder Kim would throw lavish parties complete with bouts of heavy drinking, expensive food, karaoke and musical performances on his journeys.
Konstantin Pulikovsky, a Russian official who traveled with Kim Jong-il through Russia for three weeks in 2001, once told how guests on board the train could order dishes of Russian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese and French cuisine, the New York Times reported.
He said the leader had live lobster and other fresh delicacies delivered to the train as it crossed Siberia, and cases of Bordeaux and Burgundy wines were flown in from Paris, said Pulikovsky, wrote about the experience in his memoir of the trip.
Barbecued pork was said to be among the dishes served to passengers.
Kim Jong-il would be entertained by female entertainers, known as ‘lady conductors’, who sang in Korean and Russian when he was bored.
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Some 20 stations had been built specifically for Kim Jong-il’s own use in North Korea before he was said to have died of a heart attack on board his train in December 2011.
There were claims an explosion involving trains near the Chinese border in 2004 was part of a failed assassination plot on the elder Kim, who had passed by hours earlier.
There have been just fleeting glimpses of the train’s interior in North Korean state media reports.
Kim Jong-il, who hated flying and led a playboy lifestyle, was once seen in a dining car surrounded by food as he was served by staff and entertained by well-dressed performers.
A replica of one of the carriages is displayed at the grand mausoleum where Kim Jong-il and his father and North Korea’s founder Kim Il-sung, who also travelled by train, rest in state.
South Korean and American intelligence services have been spying on the train for years, using satellites, reconnaissance aircraft and other surveillance equipment, it was reported.
Kim Jong-un, who also has a luxury jet, made a surprise visit to Beijing so he could discuss denuclearisation and other issues ahead of a possible summit with US President Donald Trump.
The reclusive dictator travelled in a heavily guarded motorcade after stepping off the train.
He has rarely left North Korea amid fears for his safety, and this was his first known trip outside the country.
His father was said to have made more than a dozen foreign trips to China and Russia.