Inside the luxury bulletproof train taking Kim Jong Un to Russia

The North Korean leader has continued the tradition of train travel established by his father

Kim Jong Un leaves his personal train in 2019
Kim Jong Un arrives in Dong Dang, Vietnam to meet President Trump in 2019
(Image credit: Associated Press / Alamy Stock Photo)

The South Korean defence ministry has confirmed that the bulletproof train carrying North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has now entered Russia and is moving towards the city of Vladivostok.

There, Kim will meet Russian president Vladimir Putin for the first time since 2019. They are expected to discuss relations between the two nations and a potential arms deal.

Kim is a "reclusive leader" who is "famously paranoid about his security, rarely stepping beyond the sealed borders of his regime", said The Telegraph. When he does choose to venture overseas, he is more likely than not to be found in an armoured green train that has served the leader of North Korea for decades.

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How is the train constructed?

Only glimpses of the train have been seen over the years, with a picture put together through "intelligence reports" and "rare state news media footage", The New York Times reported. On board, security appears to be prized above all else. 

It is thought there are "at least 90 high-security carriages", all bulletproof, resulting in them being "thousands of pounds heavier than average", the newspaper added.

For this reason, the heavy train "moves at a glacial pace", said NPR, at an estimated "28 miles per hour on tracks in North Korea". 

The train is also complete with "bulletproof windows and reinforced walls and floors" to offer the ultimate protection against explosives, Al Jazeera added. It has been nicknamed the "Moving Fortress" for its immense level of protection, equipped with "attack weapons and a helicopter for escape in case of emergency". 

 What is life like on board? 

Its "drab green" exterior may not conjure up thoughts of luxury, but Kim's train has "all the comforts of home", The New York Times said.

The most recent footage of the interior of the train dates back to the time of former leader Kim Jong Il. It features "glossy white interiors with long tables for briefings" as well as rooms with "red leather armchairs", the newspaper said. 

This train, alongside others at the North Korean leader's disposal, is also thought to be complete with "reception halls, conference rooms and high-tech communication facilities", Al Jazeera stated, citing South Korean media reports.

The leaders have attempted to counteract the length of their journeys by making sure they travel in style – with fine dining at the top of their list of priorities.

Aboard the train a "barbecue is on hand, along with Bordeaux and Beaujolais", the New York Post said, with "cases of live lobsters and other delicacies" shipped in. A Russian official, Konstantin Pulikovsky, suggested in a 2002 account that "chefs are on call" to create dishes from across the world on demand.

Pulikovsky also noted that "'beautiful lady conductors' frequently serenaded the elder Kim in Korean and Russian" as a form of entertainment. 

Kim Jong Un does not appear to differ too much from his father in his desires for travel. However, he "reportedly prefers Swiss cheese, Cristal Champagne and Hennessy cognac", The New York Times added.

 What is the significance of the train in North Korea?

The opulence of the North Korean train and its extensive facilities reflects the supreme status of its leader, but also his fear.

Kim Jong Il, who frequently used the train for trips across North Korea and overseas, reportedly stated that he would "never travel by air due to concerns about being shot out of the sky", The Washington Post said. Local media reports later suggested he died on the train of a heart attack in 2011. 

While his son Kim Jong Un has used air travel, the train continues to be a convenient mode of transport, perhaps safer due to the "ageing nature" of North Korea's aircraft, the newspaper added.

The train is also a symbol of the nation, having been "at the centre of state propaganda" around the Kim family's travel for decades, Reuters reported. It frequently features on state television as the leader conducts his affairs.

But Kim is not the only leader with this mode of transport. Putin also has his own secret armoured train, "a luxurious gym and spa on wheels", according to CNN.

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Rebekah Evans joined The Week as newsletter editor in 2023 and has written on subjects ranging from Ukraine and Afghanistan to fast fashion and "brotox". She started her career at Reach plc, where she cut her teeth on news, before pivoting into personal finance at the height of the pandemic and cost-of-living crisis. Social affairs is another of her passions, and she has interviewed people from across the world and from all walks of life. Rebekah completed an NCTJ with the Press Association and has written for publications including The Guardian, The Week magazine, the Press Association and local newspapers.