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North Korea - Railroads

North Korea - RailroadsRailroad, highway, air, and water transportation all are used in North Korea. Railroads are the most important mode of transportation, linking all major cities and accounting for about 86 percent of freight and about 80 percent of passenger traffic. Roads, on the other hand, support only 12 percent of the freight-transporting capacity, and rivers and the sea, only 2 percent. Transportation by air, other than for military purposes within North Korea, is negligible.

Even though the North has more kilometers of railroads than the South, 80 percent of these railroads are electrified, and thus operations frequently are suspended because of a lack of power in the grid. It is believed that North Korea has about 300 electric and numerous diesel locomotives. About 35 million passenger journeys occur each year. The great majority of North Korea’s freight is carried by rail in the interior, amounting to about 38.5 million tons annually.

Two major railroad lines run north–south in the interior, and one each along the east and west coasts. Two east–west lines connect Wonsan and P’yongyang by a central and a southerly route, and a part of a third link line constructed in the 1980s connects provinces in the mountainous far north near the border with China.

The railroad system is linked with the railroads of China and Russia, although gauge inconsistencies necessitate some dual gauging with Russia. As North Korea and South Korea continued to reconnect rail lines between the two countries, there was also been a need to strengthen the carrying capacity of the northern railroads, which have deteriorated as a result of the lack of infrastructure maintenance since the 1980s.

In 2006 total rail network approximately 5,235 kilometers, although officially claimed to total 8,500 kilometers, 1.435-meter standard gauge roadbeds located primarily along east and west coasts; 3,500 kilometers electrified. Rolling stock includes about 300 electric and numerous diesel locomotives; great majority of freight carried by rail. Subway system opened in P’yongyang in 1973.

During the colonial period (1910–45), Japan built railroads, highways, cities, ports, and other modern transportation and communication facilities. By 1945 Korea proportionally had more kilometers of railroads than any other Asian country except Japan, leaving only remote parts of the central east coast and the wild Northeast China–Korea border region untouched by modern means of conveyance. Railroad networks ran mainly along the north–south axis, facilitating Japan’s access to the Asian mainland.

The prevailing concepts of the role airpower should play, and of the manner in which it should be employed and controlled, largely governed its effectiveness in World War II. The Spring 1944 Allied air campaign in Italy, Operation STRANGLE, was an important milestone in the evolution of interdiction doctrine. Tactical mobility was essential to the German combat tactics, and its denial dealt them a crucial blow.

In the Korean version of Operation Strangle, the US Air Force and Navy launched what became a the ten-month interdiction campaign against North Korea's railway network in August 1951. The situation that had evolved by this stage of the conflict was one in which political negotiations had temporarily overtaken military operations. The Chinese Communist Forces (CCF) in Korea had planned a Fifth Phase Offensive as an end-of-the-war drive for the spring of 1951. But by "rolling with the punches" and trading battered real estate for Chinese lives, the US Eighth Army managed to stop the CCF drives of late April and mid-May; in fact, the American counterstroke on the ground that immediately followed punished the Chinese as never before. However, the Chinese wriggled out of this crisis by pretending a sudden interest in peace.

Peace talks produced a two-month pause in the fighting on the ground. It was during this lull that the railway interdiction campaign, initially designated "Operation Strangle," was planned and initiated. There was, to begin with, considerable optimism about what air power could achieve. While the purpose of the ten-month rail interdiction program was later officially formulated as being merely to "interfere with and disrupt the enemy's lines of communication to such an extent that he will be unable to contain a determined offensive by friendly forces or be unable to mount a sustained offensive himself. Fifth Air Force planners in Seoul were sufficiently enthused at the outset to advertise that their program would force the Chinese ground forces to fall back to within about 100 miles of the Yalu River.

The crux of Operation Strangle lay in Fifth Air Force's determination that North Korea's rail transportation system was "of supreme importance to the Communists." The considerations chat directly underwrote this determination were two. First. from the Air Force's viewpoint, rail lines offered attractive targets. "Rail lines could not be hidden, nor could rail traffic be diverted to secondary routes or detours as could motor vehicles." Second, Fifth Air Force planners came to believe that the alternative, motor transport, "would prove too costly for the Reds."

Communist countermeasures to Strangle were able, by late December 1951, to break the attempted US aerial blockade of Pyongyang and win "the use of all key rail arteries." The interdiction operations were not decisive, but there is a big difference between decisiveness and failure. W Strangle's sequel in the spring of 1952, Operation Saturate, met much the same fate. In retrospect, the official history of the Air Force in Korea concluded that although the comprehensive, ten-month railway-interdiction campaign had attained its limited purpose of hindering the Communist logistical effort, "the operation nevertheless disclosed certain regrettable failures in command, in planning, and in execution."

Air operations were a race between American airmen trying to obliterate the rail lines and Korean laborers trying to repair them. But there was no shortage of intelligence to enable the Americans to find targets to bomb.

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Page last modified: 20-09-2021 15:49:01 ZULU