Kim’s merciless dynasty has presided over famines costing perhaps millions of lives, and oversees a network of prison camps in which starving inmates — including children — have been driven to fighting over corn recovered from animal dung and eating rats and insects
Dictators love their personal trains. Hitler had ‘Amerika’, an armoured beast equipped with anti-aircraft guns, which he used as a mobile headquarters for much of World War II.
Mussolini and Stalin both insisted on luxurious bespoke carriages when travelling long distances.
Fitting, then, that one of the world’s last old‑fashioned despots should also travel in his own unique version of this tyrant’s status symbol: one that may provide a vital clue as to the whereabouts of this stricken — and possibly deceased — autocrat.
Kim Jong-un, ‘Brilliant Leader’ of North Korea, nuclear-armed strongman and real‑life Bond villain, has his own khaki green-coloured train — so heavily armoured it needs two engines to pull it at a stately 37mph along his country’s rickety railway network.
When this opulent mode of transport turned up at the private station serving his palace near the coastal resort of Wonsan last week, it became an immediate and crucial focus for U.S. spy satellites searching for evidence as to whether or not he is alive.
Rumours that Kim has died have been circulating since April 15, when he failed to attend celebrations marking the birthday of his grandfather, and Korea’s first Communist dictator, Kim Il-sung.
It has been suggested that the chain-smoking, chronically obese Kim succumbed following an emergency heart operation some time after his most recent public appearance on April 11.
Until the mystery is resolved, the train’s movements will be tracked keenly by Washington and Seoul. Being big and slow, it is not hard to find from space.
Beginning in 2015, his recruitment drive involved a search for ‘tall and beautiful’ girls, who were to be examined by a doctor to check if they were still virgins. If accepted, they were given £1,400 — a huge sum in North Korea — before becoming part of the troupe known as ‘Gippeumjo’
With its 20 or more carriages, the train boasts a lounge lined with coral-pink leather sofas, a modern, all-white conference room, an office equipped with satellite TV and a galley capable of rustling up the finest cuisine.
Fresh lobster, vintage wines and attractive female ‘conductors’ combine to make the perfect dictatorial outing.
Other less savoury onboard pleasures may be available to the ruler of this last bastion of Stalinist Communism.
It is thought that Kim, who is married to a singer six years his junior, may have revived the practice of his late father, Kim Jong-il, in using the services of the so-called ‘Pleasure Brigade’: young girls coerced into providing him and his henchmen with on‑call sex and entertainment.
The ‘Supreme Leader’ of this impoverished country boards his beloved train by means of a ramp covered with a red carpet. After consulting his array of Apple MacBooks and perhaps signing a death warrant or two, he settles down for lunch using silver chopsticks.
The finest bottles from Burgundy and Bordeaux accompany a selection of elegant dishes.
Kim’s merciless dynasty has presided over famines costing perhaps millions of lives, and oversees a network of prison camps in which starving inmates — including children — have been driven to fighting over corn recovered from animal dung and eating rats and insects.
During these long journeys, Kim employs security measures perfected by Hitler. Lines are cleared of all traffic and information on the train’s destination is restricted to only a handful of officials. He is pictured above with female troops
Their glorious leader, meanwhile, favours Cristal champagne, Hennessy cognac and Swiss cheese – a legacy of his schooling in Switzerland, where he masqueraded as the child of embassy workers.
The train can also carry Kim’s armoured Mercedes, sometimes accompanied by another armoured vehicle carrying his personal mobile bathroom. Unlike Stalin and indeed his own father, who were both frightened of flying, 36-year-old Kim appears happy to use planes when necessary, including his personal Russian-built Ilyushin 62 airliner, named Chammae-1 after a species of hawk.
He has even been photographed at the controls of a light aircraft — though, perhaps fortunately given the visible results of his fondness for food, this remained safely on the ground.
He has used his train to visit Russia, China and Vietnam, as well as his network of palaces and command centres, some of which are located underground.
During these long journeys, Kim employs security measures perfected by Hitler. Lines are cleared of all traffic and information on the train’s destination is restricted to only a handful of officials.
Two guard trains crammed with bodyguards — one in front and one behind — ensure that the route is clear and safe. Helicopters provide overhead cover as the train winds its way between a network of some 20 private stations used exclusively by Kim.
Of course, the train could be used as a decoy in times of emergency, with the Brilliant Leader resorting to less ostentatious modes of transport to escape an assassination attempt or military strike.
He has been known to hop off for a cigarette break — most notably on his journey through China to meet with President Trump in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi.
He was filmed in February last year flicking ash into a crystal ashtray held by his sister, Kim Yo-jong — his chief political lieutenant and a leading contender to succeed him.
Kim Jong-un, who married Ri Sol-ju in 2009, has reportedly continued with his father’s debauched ways by ordering the formation of his own Pleasure Brigade.
After initially abandoning the recruitment of teenage girls as sexual playthings following his ascent to power in 2012, he is thought to have restarted it at the end of the obligatory three-year mourning period that followed his father’s death.
Beginning in 2015, his recruitment drive involved a search for ‘tall and beautiful’ girls, who were to be examined by a doctor to check if they were still virgins.
If accepted, they were given £1,400 — a huge sum in North Korea — before becoming part of the troupe known as ‘Gippeumjo’. Parents were informed that their daughters were being taken away to serve the country’s leader on a ‘government mission’.
A rare insight into life onboard this trundling gin palace was provided by Russian official Konstantin Pulikovsky, who accompanied Kim Jong-il on a leisurely one-month visit to Russia in 2001, ending in an audience with Vladimir Putin.
When this opulent mode of transport turned up at the private station serving his palace near the coastal resort of Wonsan last week, it became an immediate and crucial focus for U.S. spy satellites searching for evidence as to whether or not he is alive
Apparently, the old monster, who in the 1990s diverted food shipments intended to avert a famine in North Korea to his military and party loyalists, liked nothing more than to sing rousing choruses of old Soviet songs with four young female singers he described as ‘lady conductors’.
‘It was possible to order any dish of Russian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese and French cuisine,’ wrote Pulikovsky, who described his host as a gourmet. During the train’s progress through the wastes of Siberia, live lobsters were delivered regularly to stations, at immense cost.
Government ministers entering his office ‘bent deferentially in a deep bow and remained like this until there was a hardly visible sign from their commander that they could straighten their backs’.
Impressive the train may be, but it is also an obvious and slow-moving target. In 2004, when trains laden with combustible materials exploded following a collision or other malfunction at Ryongchon near the Chinese border, Kim Jong-il was not concerned about the 160 people killed.
His worry was it had been an abortive attempt to attack his train, which had passed through the town two hours earlier.
But all the protection in the world would not save Kim Jong-il from his own human frailty.
He was reported to have died from a heart attack aboard his train in December 2011.
If Kim Jong-un eventually succumbs to heart trouble, it will be no surprise, as — like evil — it runs in the family.
In the meantime, his luxurious steed lies empty beside his palace: a glittering Orient Express, travelling through a benighted land.