A place in North Korea
, close to the Chinese
border. It was the site of one of the worst train disasters in history – in April 2004. As far as can be speculated (no reliable detailed account was ever given by the authorities) what happened was this: two trains loaded with explosives (dynamite?) and/or fertilizer, collided or got caught up in the overhead electric power cables while being shunted at Ryongchon station. This sparked an explosion so massive that for a moment it was even misinterpreted as a surface nuclear bomb detonation! (Not only abroad – debris flew as far as China
– but also within the country itself: apparently some North Koreans feared that this was the beginning of a nuclear attack on the country by the USA
– which they had always been told was looming …). There have even been rumours that it was actually an assassination attempt on Kim Jong Il
. If so, it missed its target … but that's now irrelevant, since he snuffed it "naturally" in late 2011 anyway.
Even though both the assassination attempt and the nuclear explosion theory were very quickly dismissed as a misinterpretation, the statistics still give you an idea of what a disaster it must have been: A primary school near the station was completely levelled, and thousands of homes near the railway were destroyed or badly damaged, at least 154 people were killed, and probably thousands injured.
A year later, it had all been cleared up and no one would now think this was a disaster area of those proportions. Only the shiny, new, blue-green houses that have been built at the site give an indication … as they look so much more polished than any other houses along the route.
You pass through Ryongchon if you leave or enter the DPRK
by overnight train to/from Beijing – which is often the case on longer itineraries (for the other leg they typically use planes).