All aboard for Vladivostok: Kim follows in father's tracks

1 / 2
Kim's trip to the Tumen river border with Russia took only around nine hours, a fraction of the two-and-a-half day marathon he undertook in February to meet Donald Trump in Hanoi

Waving and smiling, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un boarded one of his signature olive-green trains early Wednesday, following in his father's tracks to head for Vladivostok and a summit with Vladimir Putin.

Pictures released by Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency showed him inspecting an honour guard and shaking hands with black-suited officials before embarking on the journey, the skies still dark.

It was the fourth time Kim has chosen to travel by rail for a summit abroad.

But the trip from an undisclosed location in North Korea to the Tumen river border with Russia took only around nine hours, a fraction of the two-and-a-half day marathon he undertook in February to reach Hanoi, only for his nuclear summit with Donald Trump to collapse without agreement.

North Korean and Russian trains use different gauges, but the line from the northeastern North Korean port of Rajin to Khasan has tracks of both sizes to enable trains from either system to use it.

The North Korean leader's affinity for rail travel is a trait shared by his predecessors, his father Kim Jong Il and grandfather Kim Il Sung.

Kim Jong Il is said to have had a fear of flying and stuck to high-security trains for his foreign trips, using them for his seven visits to China and three to Russia over his 1994-2011 term -- including a 2002 summit with Putin in Vladivostok.

In 2001, he undertook a marathon 20,000-kilometre (12,400 mile) round trip to Moscow from Pyongyang.

The Kims reportedly have several almost identical special trains emblazoned with a yellow stripe, made by a factory in Pyongyang.

They are typically composed of two engines and 17 to 21 cars, travel at no more than 60 kilometres per hour, and are said to carry armoured vehicles and small helicopters for emergencies.

The carriages used by Kim Jong Il -- a Macintosh computer on his desk -- and his own father and predecessor, the North's founder Kim Il Sung, are now on display at the Kumsusan Memorial Palace in Pyongyang, where both late leaders' bodies lie in state.

Since March last year, Kim has made seven foreign trips, four to China for meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping and one each to Singapore and Vietnam for summits with Trump. He also stepped over the military demarcation line into South Korean territory for a summit in the Demilitarized Zone with President Moon Jae-in.

He flew on three of the journeys, two to China and one to Singapore, showing no signs of an aversion to taking to the air -- and was even seen at the controls of an aircraft in video footage released by state media in 2014.

But as he made the 60-hour return train trip from Vietnam with no deal in hand, Kim hinted at physical fatigue from spending hours on the rails, according to one of his top diplomats.

The South's Newsis news agency reported that at a briefing in Pyongyang last month, vice foreign minister Choe Son Hui quoted him as asking: "Why would I do this train trip again?"