High-speed rail in Menghe

MGY-301 train on a viaduct over the outskirts of Chŏngdo.
Interior of a first-class car on MGY-200 family trains.
Two linked MGY-501 trainsets outside Dongrŭng Main Station.

Menghe currently operates the largest high-speed rail network in Septentrion. At the end of 2020, the country contained over 21,000 kilometers of operational high-speed track, for a total route length of over 10,500 kilometers. This is over three times as long as the next-longest high-speed network, found in Dayashina. This track is built with a design speed of 300 km/h (186 mph) in the mountainous east, and 350 km/h (217 mph) on the plains, and it is fully separated from freight and conventional-speed passenger traffic.

Equally impressive is the speed with which this network developed. Menghe Railways opened its first high-speed passenger service at the end of 2006, after five years of construction and testing. This line, which linked Sunju and Insŏng over level terrain, was built with extensive help from Themiclesia, and the line's extension to Junggyŏng relied extensively on Themiclesian engineering partnerships. By the early 2010s, however, Menghean engineers were already planning tracks and designing rolling stock domestically, and today Menghe is a front-tier competitor in the market for domestically developed high-speed train technology.

Official classification

Menghe's Railroad Regulatory Agency defines a high-speed railway as "a 1435mm-gauge track built to safely support top speeds in excess of 300 kilometers per hour, which is reserved exclusively for use by passenger trains with a top speed of at least 250 kilometers per hour, and which is part of the national railway grid." This definition excludes sections of conventional track which have been modified to allow top speeds of up to 250 kilometers per hour, especially if they also run low-speed trains. It also excludes maglev trains and high-speed monorails, as well as test circuits which do not overlap with passenger networks. The figures for distances of high-speed track in this article refer exclusively to track meeting this definition.

Menghe Railways further distinguishes between "G trains" and "K trains" in its ticket pricing and train scheduling. G trains (Gosok Ryŏlcha) are trains that run exclusively on high-speed track, as defined above, and which have a top speed of at least 250 kilometers per hour (most G trainsets built after 2010 have a top speed of 350 km/h). Except where otherwise indicated, the term "high-speed train" in Menghe refers exclusively to G trains.

K trains (Kwaesok Ryŏlcha) are trains which have top speeds of between 180 and 250 kilometers per hour. They sometimes run on high-speed track, but they may also run on conventional track engineered for speeds of up to 250 kilometers per hour. They have the same ticketing process as high-speed G trains, and use the same 1250mm high platforms, but have cheaper fares. To avoid confusion with "genuine" high-speed trains, they are usually called "fast trains," "fast express trains," or "fast-speed trains" in Anglian literature.

Tier Letter Menghean name Translation Top Speed Description
Tier I G (高) 고속 여객 렬차 / 高速旅客列車
Gosok Yŏgaek Ryŏlcha
High-speed train 300-350 km/h Direct service between major urban centers on dedicated high-speed track.
K (快) 쾌속 여객 렬차 / 快速旅客列車
Kwaesok Yŏgaek Ryŏlcha
Fast express train 200-250 km/h Direct service between major urban centers on tracks upgraded for increased speeds. They sometimes run on dedicated express track. Includes trains that exclusively run between two cities, e.g. the Sangha-Hwasŏng fast express.

History

Early interest

Menghe's high-speed rail program can trace its origins to 1993, when the Minister of Railroads aired a proposal for a national high-speed rail network before the Supreme Council. Choe Sŭng-min reportedly expressed a strong interest in the project, but also suggested that it be postponed until Menghe had reached a higher level of economic development.

To prepare for the eventual construction of high-speed rail links, the Ministry of Railraods commissioned a number of feasibility studies on high-speed rail around Menghe, examining possible locations for the first lines. Two initial routes were considered: A Sunju-Insŏng line in the south, and a Donggyŏng-Dongrŭng line in the northeast. The choice of location became a source of fierce competition between the municipal governments of Donggyŏng and Sunju, building on top of the cities' existing economic rivalry.

Recognizing Menghe's lack of existing technological expertise, the Ministry of Railroads also sponsored a number of overseas ventures intended to gather expertise on high-speed rail. From 1997 onward, Menghean engineers were invited to Themiclesia, where they observed day-to-day operations in train cockpits and train control stations. Themiclesian personnel also traveled to Menghe to assist in surveying and planning efforts. These exchanges provided important knowledge on high-speed rail technology, and also facilitated the improvement of existing passenger lines in the "augmented-speed" category.

Improvement of existing lines

With strengthened track and new locomotives, the Sunju-Dongchŏn passenger line could reach a speed of 210 kilometers per hour

During the same period, the Ministry of Railroads also launched an "acceleration campaign" to improve the speed and timeliness of existing passenger rail services. This campaign was supported by the purchase of large numbers of DE19 and DE20 diesel-electric locomotives, capable of making 120 and 140 kilometers per hour, respectively, from Themiclesia; by the late 1990s, the government had begun transitioning toward domestic locomotive designs.

In densely populated coastal areas, especially Central and South Donghae Province, the Ministry of Transportation also began separating passenger and freight traffic, by building dedicated freight track in CargoMax loading gauge. The existing tracks were then converted to passenger-only, and upgraded with overhead wires, improved railroad ties, and track laid to improved tolerances, allowing speeds of up to 160 kilometers per hour. On some high-volume routes, the Ministry of Railroads also built dedicated regional and commuter tracks parallel to intercity ones, so that passenger trains traveling at different speeds would not interfere with one another. This was accompanied by a shift toward electric multiple units in place of diesel locomotives for passenger transport, though diesel and diesel-electric trains remained common in rural areas.

First high-speed rail line

While the "acceleration campaign" brought major improvements to passenger service, its fastest trains still made only 200 kilometers per hour, and the Ministry of Railroads remained interested in "genuine" high-speed lines. In early 1999, the Department of Railroads in Central Donghae Province announced plans to pursue a dedicated high-speed rail line between Donggyŏng and Dongrŭng. Despite some initial interest from Themiclesian and Casaterran rail companies, the outbreak of the 1999 Menghean financial crisis brought major concerns about Menghe's credit-worthiness, and the project was cancelled in 2000 before a single offer had been placed.

A renewed effort came in 2001, when the central Ministry of Railroads announced a second plan for a dedicated high-speed line. This line would follow the competing Sunju-Insŏng route, with future extention to Hwasŏng via Mindong and Unchŏn. This route would be built on more forgiving level terrain, especially for its future extension northeast, though it would require a 1.4-kilometer bridge over the Meng River. Encouraged by the speed of Menghe's economic recovery, the Themiclesian National Commission for Railways made a competitive offer, and in 2002 the Menghean and Themiclesian national governments agreed on a construction and technology transfer contract.

On the Menghean side, the Ministry of Railroads established the Menghean High-Speed Rail Corporation (MHSRC) to manage the line, with a 51/49 ownership split between the Menghean government and Themiclesian investors. Following the reorganization of the Cabinet structure in 2003, the controlling share was transferred to Menghe Railways, which had been split off from the Ministry of Railroads (now part of the Ministry of Transportation and Communications). Like Menghe Railways, the MHSRC was formally state-owned, but promotion of managerial staff was based on a mix of profitability metrics and service quality metrics. MHSRC also included a large number of Themiclesian personnel among its staff to oversee the transfer of technology; as per the terms of the 2002 contract, it would revert to full Menghean oversight in 2012.

Driven by a desire to make up for time lost during the financial crisis, and by the lingering militarist-productionist ethos of the early 2000s, the Ministry of Railroads (and after it, the Railroad Regulatory Agency) pushed for an accelerated construction schedule. Surveying for the high-speed track was completed in 2003, and rail construction took place in 2004 and 2005, bringing with it the construction of the new Insŏng South Railway station. In April 2004, planners began surveying work for the extension to Hwasŏng. Test runs on the Sunju-Insŏng line were conducted day and night through 2006, and the train completed its inaugural run on December 14th, 2006, slightly ahead of schedule and just in time for Menghe's winter holiday week.

Building of new lines

The Donggyŏng-Dongrŭng line under construction.

With the Sunju-Insŏng line complete and the extension to Hwasŏng in progress, other Menghean cities began developing their own plans for high-speed rail. A high-speed route from Chanam to Onju opened in 2009, and a route from Junggyŏng to Sapo - intended to link up with the Hwasŏng line in the future - opened in 2010. Also in 2010, the previously cancelled high-speed route between Donggyŏng and Dongrŭng opened to passenger traffic, and work was already underway on a series of tunnels that would connect it to Anchŏn. At this stage, many new lines were built in segments, connecting the largest cities or the most favorable terrain first, and later expanding to link these sections together via costlier tunnels, bridges, and rural routes.

During this period of expansion, Menghe also sought new technology-transfer partnerships with foreign investors. MHSRC jointly developed the MGR-300 trainset series with Eisenmaat, basing the design off of a widened Siemens Velaro; the resulting train was substantially faster than the Themiclesian-derived MGR-200, with a top speed of 350 km/h for regular service and 380 km/h on test track. MHSRC also used new technology to improve the speed of the MGR-200 series, resulting in the improved MGR-250.

Four major milestones came at the end of 2012, when the tunnel link between Donggyŏng and Jinyi opened. With this route complete, trains could run directly from Donggyŏng to Sunju, roughly parallel to the core mainline route built across the country in the early 1900s. The Dongrŭng-Anchŏn route also opened, allowing uninterrupted high-speed service between Donggyŏng and Hyangchun with a separate segment from Chilsan to Yŏngjŏng awaiting connection. With the opening of these routes, Menghe ended the year with 7,101 kilometers of high-speed track in operation, surpassing Dayashina as the country in Septentrion with the most high-speed track. And fourth, the joint-ownership contract with Themiclesia reached its expiry date, meaning that MHSRC was an entirely domestic venture.

Domestic development

The MKR-400 "fast train," Menghe's first domestic design with a top speed of over 200 km/h.

During the first decade of Menghe's high-speed rail construction, nearly all equipment was partially or entirely reliant on foreign components. The MGR-200 and MGR-300 trainsets were foreign designs adapted for Menghe's network requirements, and foreign advisors contributed to the planning and construction of the track network. While the foreign-built trains ran well, and helped build economic connections between Menghe and its allies, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications nevertheless set the goal of making Menghe fully self-reliant in new high-speed rail procurement by the time the joint ownership agreement expired in 2012. This goal was based on three main reasons:

  1. Encouraging domestic research and development will allow Menghean companies to move into more profitable sectors and create high-skill jobs as Menghe transitions out of its low-wage specialization.
  2. In the unlikely event that relations with Themiclesia or Eisenmaat deteriorate, Menghe must be able to continue building new rolling stock and replacement parts.
  3. Because MHHSR's license-production agreements only apply to products intended for use in Menghe itself, Menghe must develop its own designs without foreign patents in order to export high-speed technology to other countries.

This began with an effort, launched in 2006, to develop a fully domestic "fast train" with a top speed in the 200-250 km/h range for improved conventional routes. The resulting trainset, designated MKR-400, featured a power car at either end and eight passenger cars in between. It also featured multi-system propulsion, allowing it to run on both 25 kV AC high-speed overhead lines and 3 kV DC conventional-speed overhead lines. This made it useful for connecting routes where the high-speed track was not completely laid. It first ran passenger service in 2011.

Development of a fully indigenous high-speed (G-type) train proved more difficult. The MKR-400 project experienced repeated delays and fell short of design goals, and Menghe Railways faced legal challenges over components that appeared to be derived from foreign designs. Nevertheless, in 2014 the first production-model MGR-500 trainset rolled off the assembly line, and in 2015 it entered service between Yŏngsan and Junggyŏng. Menghe would later export trainsets of the MGR-500 series to Polvokia, Argentstan, and the Republic of Innominada.

Further expansion

New construction continued its rapid pace during the 2010s, as Menghe's domestic experience with high-speed rail construction caught up with its industrial capacity. Cities competed for contracts which would bring them onto the national high-speed grid, expecting lucrative gains from heightened passenger flow. Companies in the construction sector even pioneered new techniques for mass-producing elevated trackway sections and mechanically laying continuous welded rail, driving down construction costs on new routes.

While the first phase of construction had focused on the two highest volume areas - the Meng River Valley and the east coast - the Fifth New Five-Year Plan laid out an ambitious vision for a high-speed network linking all major cities. A long route from Songrimsŏng to Jinjŏng opened up the isolated interior cities, and new branches from Hwasŏng to Wŏnsan and from Sunju to Dongchŏn brought cities near the mainlines onto the grid. Much of this new construction took place on rugged, mountainous, and earthquake-prone terrain, necessitating special construction techniques to control costs and minimize risk. The Chŏngdo-Donggyŏng and Goksan-Daegok segments, which opened in 2016 and 2017 respectively, represented the greatest terrain challenges.

In the late 2010s, Menghe expanded its high-speed rail network beyond its frontier areas to serve international traffic. The Trans-Hemithea High-Speed Railway was announced in 2014 as a joint venture between Nukkumaa, Themiclesia, Dzhungestan, Menghe, and Dayashina, and it provided the impetus for the extension of the Baekjin-Jinjŏng line to the western city of Suhait. Meanwhile, in the wake of the Innominadan Crisis, Menghe extended the southwestern branch of the high-speed network from Quảng Phả to Ban Xoang, and began work on a high-speed mainline in Argentstan and the Republic of Innominada. The resulting "South Sea High-Speed Route" will include a long-distance sleeper train from Ryŏngdo to San Miguel, and is scheduled for completion in 2023, though security concerns and construction problems could delay this date to 2024 or 2025 for the Republic of Innominada's section.

Opening dates of existing lines

  • 2006: Insŏng-Sunju
  • 2009: Onju-Sungdŏk-Myŏng'an-Chanam
  • 2010: Junggyŏng-Sapo, Donggyŏng-Taean-Dongrŭng, Unchŏn-Mindong-Insŏng
  • 2011: Boryŏng-Haeju-Hyangchun, Gyeju-Anchŏn, Sapo-Hwasŏng-Unchŏn
  • 2012: Dongrŭng-Gyeju, Anchŏn-Gŭmchŏn-Boryŏng, Junggyŏng-Taekchŏn-Jinyi
  • 2013: Jinyi-Donggyŏng, Ranju-Yŏngjŏng, Sunju-Giju-Pyŏng'an
  • 2014: Hyangchun-Chogwan-Chilsan-Ranju, Yŏngjŏng-Goksan, Jinyi-Songrimsŏng-Baekjin
  • 2015: Hwasŏng-Yŏng'an-Wŏnsan, Hapsŏng-Ryŏjin-Jinjŏng, Sunchang-Hwasŏng, Tongju-Dongchŏn
  • 2016: Songrimsŏng-Hapsŏng, Baekjin-Chŏngdo-Donggyŏng, Unchŏn-Chŏnjin-Onju
  • 2017: Pyŏng'an-Hồng Xuyén-Thu Bồn-Quảng Phả, Yŏngjŏng-Gyŏngsan, Goksan-Daegok
  • 2018: Daegok-Gungye-Pungsu, Junggyŏng-Mu'an-Yŏngsan-Hyangchun, Pungsu-Chanam
  • 2019: Hwasŏng-Sangha, Jinjŏng-Suhait, Hyŏnju-Gwangjin-Pyŏng'an, Sunju-Tongju
  • 2020: Jŏksan-Pyŏngchŏn-Junggyŏng, Quảng Phả-Muang Sing-Ban Xoang, Sunchang-Ramchung

Planned opening dates

  • 2021: Sangha-Biyang, Busin-Insŏng, Dài Nióng-Hyŏnju
  • 2022: Hapsŏng-Danam-Nungang-Jŏksan, Winam-Onju, Muang Sing-Samtay
  • 2023: Kaesan-Wichang-Unchŏn, Ramchung-Changban-Pungsu

Concerns and scandals

Yŏng'an station, under construction in 2010, was the centerpiece of a major embezzlement scandal within the municipal government.

Due to the sheer volume of funds involved, and the importance of high-speed rail connections to economic development, the campaign to construct new high-speed rail connections produced many opportunities for corruption. Two consecutive heads of the Railway Regulatory Agency, Ri Yŏn-sŏk and Jŏng Ha-yun, were prosecuted for corruption in 2011 and 2015 respectively; both had accepted sums totaling over 20 billion (about $1 billion USD) to expedite the approval of new high-speed lines. Construction companies also collected bribes in order to win lucrative railway-building and station-building contracts.

The "frontier lines" running into the west and southwest, while motivated by political imperatives rather than corruption, resulted in similar shortcomings. Passenger traffic between Ban Xoang and Quảng Phả is low, as is ridership on the northern sections from Jinjŏng to Suhait and from Ryŏjin to Songrimsŏng. While crowded trains are common along the east coast, where dense populations and short travel distances make high-speed rail competitive with air travel, the long-haul rural routes still struggle to compete with air traffic for a small passenger market. These concerns led Menghe Railways to revise downward its initial estimate for ridership on the in-progress Hapsŏng to Jŏksan section, which mainly connects to small rust-belt cities with low tourist and commuter demand.

Other concerns related to passenger safety and environmental impact. The RRA demanded "world-class standards" in Menghe's high-speed rail network, but the almost militarized rush to build new rail lines on tight schedules, construction teams and engineers often bypassed regulations in order to meet ever-shortening deadlines. After the 2015 derailment of a high-speed train from Sapo to Hwasŏng, the RRA promised to tighten regulation, and required a more stringent series of test runs before new lines could be opened. Yet the following year, the CEO of Menghe Railways assured investors that his company would complete all ongoing projects on schedule, leading to continued concerns about the dangers of accelerated construction.

The final challenge came in 2019, when the Ministry of Economic Development ordered a temporary freeze in the construction of new high-speed track as part of the Seventh Five-Year Plan. Ongoing intercity links could continue work, but planned routes and routes in the surveying stage would have to undergo a period of budgetary review to ensure that ridership and economic impact are proportionate to investment costs. The proposed Wŏnsan-Kaesan-Jinjŏng route, which would run a 40-kilometer tunnel through the Chŏnsan Mountains in order to bring a mining city of under 1 million people onto the network, was singled out for particularly harsh criticism. In addition to concerns over safety and corruption, Menghean public-sector debt was rapidly rising in the late 2010s, driven by increased military spending and bold investment in infrastructure projects with diminishing marginal returns, and all of these factors contributed to a broader effort to rein in spending on superfluous transit projects.

Ownership and administration

Initially, Menghe's high-speed rail network was run by the Menghean High-Speed Rail Corporation, or MHSRC, a joint enterprise with mixed Themiclesian and Menghean ownership. After the Themiclesian shares were returned to Menghean control in 2012, MHSRC was folded into Menghe Railways, the enterprise which runs Menghe's nationwide rail monopoly. This change allowed for greater long-term planning and coordination between the two networks, including a common ticket pricing scheme and the running of K trains on both networks.

Menghe Railways is officially classified as a "mixed-motive state-owned enterprise," one of several special categories in Menghe. This means that it must meet certain public-service performance targets set by the Railroad Regulatory Agency, such as fare affordability and service levels, but beyond these targets managers are rewarded for increasing profits and cutting losses. Menghe Railways is financially separate from the government budget, though it does receive annual subsidies to keep high-speed ticket prices low, and it relies heavily on government-backed loans to finance new construction.

After the completion of the Northern Road project, foreign high-speed trains will be allowed to run on Menghean territory, but their fares and schedules on the Menghean section of track must be approved by the RRA.

Current routes

This table lists all high-speed (G type) train routes in Menghe. K type routes are not listed. Cities in italics have stations and track under construction, but have not yet opened for service as of December 2020. Routes in italics are planned, but not yet open, as of December 2020. All routes are listed in the "down" (hahaeng) direction, starting with the station closest to Baekjin.

Route name Stations on route
Chŏllo Dongchŏn, Tongju, Sunju, Giju, Pyŏng'an, Gwnagjin, Hyŏnju, Dài Nióng
Choyang Hapsŏng, Danam, Nungang, Jŏksan, Pyŏngchŏn, Junggyŏng, Muan, Yŏngsan, Hyangchun
Doksuri Wŏnsan, Yŏng'an, Hwasŏng, Sunchang, Ramchung, Changban, Pungsu
Donghae Baekjin, Chŏngdo, Donggyŏng, Taean, Dongrŭng, Gyeju, Anchŏn, Gŭmchŏn, Boryŏng, Haeju, Hyangchun, Chogwan, Chilsan, Ranju, Yŏngjŏng, Gyŏngsan
Hasŏ Winam, Onju, Sungdŏk, Myŏng'an, Chanam
Hwangsaman Sunju, Tongju, Juman
Hwarang Kaesan, Wichang, Unchŏn, Chŏnjin, Onju, Sungdŏk, Myŏng'an, Chanam
Jebi Donggyŏng, Taean, Dongrŭng, Gyeju, Anchŏn, Gŭmchŏn, Boryŏng, Haeju, Hyangchun
Mallima Baekjin, Songrimsŏng, Jinyi, Taekchŏn, Junggyŏng, Hamun, Sapo, Hwasŏng, Unchŏn, Mindong, Insŏng, Sunju, Giju, Pyŏng'an, Hồng Xuyén, Thu Bồn, Quảng Phả, Muang Sing
Namryŏng Hyangchun, Chogwan, Chilsan, Ranju, Yŏngjŏng, Goksan, Daegok, Gungye, Pungsu, Chanam, Myŏng'an, Sungdŏk, Onju, Chŏnjin, Unchŏn
Sŏpo Busin, Insŏng
Yŏnbang Donggyŏng, Jinyi, Taekchŏn, Junggyŏng, Hamun, Sapo, Hwasŏng, Unchŏn, Mindong, Insŏng, Sunju
Yumogmin Baekjin, Songrimsŏng, Hapsŏng, Ryŏjin, Jinjŏng, Suhait

Passenger service

Seating classes

Currently, high-speed and fast trains in Menghe have a total of five seating classes. Of the five, Premium Suites are the least common, only appearing on certain trains and certain routes. Because most high-speed trains run between 5 AM and 11 PM, sleeper cars are also relatively rare. Most high-speed trains in Menghe only carry first class and second class seats.

  • Premium suite: Luxury car with large 2-seat compartments, each containing a fold-down bed, a desk, storage space, and a bathroom with a shower. Very rare, and only used on certain routes.
  • First class seat: 2+2 seating arrangement with increased leg room between seats. The storage space for luggage, at the front and/or rear of each car, is also larger.
  • Second class seat: 2+3 seating arrangement, with similar seat quality to economy class on an airplane. As on first-class cars, seats have fold-out tables and power outlets for charging electronics.
  • First class sleeper: Four folding beds/benches per compartment, with two on each side. There is also a table in the middle. These cars are only used on long-distance routes, such as the Trans-Hemithea High-Speed Railway and the South Hemithea High-Speed Railway.
  • Second class sleeper: Recently introduced for some long-haul domestic routes. Uses two-level bunks, perpendicular to the hallway on one side and parallel to it on the other.

Ticketing

Unlike most Tier II and Tier III Menghean passenger trains, G and K trains do not have a swipe-on/swipe-off payment option. Instead, passengers must purchase a ticket in advance, for a specific seat and a specific start and end station. Non-seat (standing) tickets are not sold. In addition to purchasing a ticket at a train station's service window, passengers can also call the Menghe Railways ticket purchase hotline, enter the Menghe Railways website, or purchase a ticket through an approved third-party travel agency. Tickets on G and K trains must be purchased at least 1 hour before departure if bought on the phone or online, or 10 minutes before departure if bought at the station.

All passengers must present a valid form of ID when purchasing high-speed and fast-speed rail tickets. Menghean citizens and permanent residents can present their Resident ID card or read off their ID number. Because the ticket purchase database links personal identifying information to ticket data, if citizens or permanent residents purchase tickets online or over the phone, they can use their Resident ID cards in place of a physical ticket when passing through the ticket counter. Alternatively, it is possible to present one's Resident ID card at a ticketing machine or a ticket window to retrieve a physical ticket.

These remote options are only open to passengers with valid Menghean ID. Originally, foreign visitors had to purchase high-speed tickets through an approved third-party agency. In 2016, Menghe Railways added an option for foreigners to purchase tickets online or at stations using their passport number as identification.

Ticket pricing

At the lowest service level on current trains (second-class seat with air conditioning and wi-fi), a ticket on the Menghean high-speed rail costs $0.09 per kilometer. Because of the discounts applied above 300, 500, 1000, 1500, and 2000 kilometers, the average may be lower for long-distance trips. Compared with the second-class seat, first-class seats cost 1.5 times as much, second-class sleepers cost twice as much, and first-class sleepers cost three times as much.

This pricing system makes Menghean high-speed rail among the cheapest high-speed rail systems in Septentrion, when measured on a per-kilometer basis. This is partly due to per-ticket subsidies given to Menghe Railways to encourage greater ridership on trains, as opposed to more polluting cars and airplanes. It is also a result of lower labor costs in Menghe more generally, and lower average incomes among customers. Low-speed trains are even cheaper: frequent-stop regional rail services charge slightly over $0.01 per kilometer at the lowest service level. Finally, it reflects a side effect of Menghe Railways's pricing scheme, in which all rail fares are pegged to a single nationwide per-kilometer rate. This makes nationwide increases in ticket costs highly visible and unpopular, and has led Menghe Railways to keep the current fares constant since 2012 despite rising incomes and inflation.

Operating hours

While most of Menghe's conventional passenger lines still run reduced service at night, most high-speed lines have no service between 11:00PM and 5:00AM. This allows regular maintenance to be carried out at night. The only major exceptions are the Baekjin-Suhait route, which is part of the Trans-Hemithean High-Speed Railway, and the Baekjin-Ban Xoang mainline, which offers sleeper service across the country. These trains, however, run infrequently, leaving gaps of a few hours each night to check the track.

Infrastructure

Because Menghe's first high-speed rail line was built with Themiclesian assistance, both that line and all subsequent ones rely on Themiclesian or Themiclesian-derived standards and technology. In some areas, such as track gauge and train width, this happened to coincide with systems used in the rest of Menghe's rail transport system; in other areas, however, there are differences between Menghe's high-speed and conventional-speed infrastructure.

Tracks

Ballastless track on the Anchŏn-Ranju section of the Donghae High-Speed Line

Menghe's high-speed rail network is fully separated from regular-speed passenger and freight traffic. This makes it easier to schedule high-speed trains, as there is no need to schedule wide gaps to prevent them from overtaking other trains. Separation of freight and high-speed traffic also reduces wear on the tracks from heavy railcars. The one exception to this rule comes in the form of certain K trains, which run part of their route on conventional track and part on high-speed track. These trains attain a speed of over 200 kilometers per hour on the high-speed section, but still require special attention in scheduling.

Though separated from the rest of the network, Menghean high-speed trains run on dedicated standard-gauge rails 1435 millimeters apart, which is the standard in Themiclesia as well. To allow for a smoother ride, all high-speed rail lines use continuous welded rail, swingnose crossings in place of conventional switches, and slab-type ballastless track to minimize the deformation of rails.

Additionally, high-speed rail lines incorporate a cant that may feel uncomfortable at lower speeds, and steeper gradients which slower trains may be unable to meet: the section of track between Yŏngjŏng and Goksŏng reaches a maximum grade of 4.0 degrees, and is exclusively served by domestically built MGR-500 series passenger trains. Existing high-speed railways are also limited to trains with an axle load of 18 tonnes; higher axle loads can damage the track beyond its precise specifications.

Elevated track

In order to minimize interaction with other ground-level traffic, Menghean high-speed rail lines in densely populated areas are often elevated above the ground as viaducts or on top of raised embankments. At-grade crossings are not permitted, with roads, passenger crossings, and other railways either passing above or below the track. The only place where high-speed and conventional-speed tracks may cross is at the approach to a station, for example if the high-speed train is running southeast-to-northwest and the conventional track is running east-to-west.

Elevated track sections also reduce construction costs when building in mountainous areas, as they make it easier to maintain a relatively straight and level path despite rough terrain below. The mass production of elevated track sections, along with specialized machinery to install them, was a major contributing factor to keeping construction costs low in the 2010s.

Where elevated sections are not possible or not necessary, ground-level or embankment sections of track are fenced off to keep people and animals off the track, and overhead crossings include safety cameras to detect foreign objects which fall onto the track. Track security is the responsibility of the Railway Police, a subordinate body of the Internal Security Forces.

Where high-speed trains must go underground, tunnels are built to a wider diameter than the train's loading gauge would otherwise require, and are equipped with shock hoods at the entrances to muffle tunnel boom.

Power supply

All Menghean high-speed trains are electrically powered, relying on high-tension overhead lines suspended from catenaries above the track to supply power at 25 kV 50 Hz AC. This power system was inherited from Themiclesia. It stands in contrast to electrified lines elsewhere on Menghe's rail network, which use 3 kV DC overhead lines - a standard inherited from Kolodoria. The differing power systems require special care in the design of level crossings (on approach to stations), where pantographs cross breaks in the intersecting wire, and also require that parallel high-speed and conventional track be properly spaced and avoided if possible, to reduce negative interference in electromagnetic current.

The difference in power supply conditions between high-speed and conventional track also creates special challenges for K-trains which cross between networks. Crossover K trains use multi-systen locomotives or multiple units, capable of running on both AC and DC current.

Shorter high-speed trains are designed to operate with only a center or forward pantograph raised in order to prevent oscillations along the line. On longer trains (10 cars and above), the length is sufficiently great to permit raised pantographs on both the forward and rear cars.

Signaling equipment

Signalling on Menghean high-speed trains is fully automated, with train movement tracked and directed at centralized traffic control centers and information fed to train operators electronically as well as visually.

Because Menghe's first high-speed rail projects were built with extensive Themiclesian assistance, the two countries' signaling procedures and equipment are virtually identical, and once the Northern Road rail project is completed trains will be able to run the full distance without the need for built-in redundant electronics.

Loading gauge

"Form B," the maximum dimensions permitted on Menghe's high-speed track.

The loading gauge used by Menghean G trains is based on the MGR-200 EMU, which is too large to fit certain tunnels built in Menghean "Federal" loading gauge. Both loading gauges have a maximum width of 3800mm, allowing them to pass through the same platforms, but Form B trains may be up to 100mm taller, with a maximum height above track of 4500mm as opposed to 4400mm. More significantly, the Form B loading gauge has a squared-off top, inherited from the wind baffles around the pantograph equipment of the MGR-200.

Platform height

All Menghean G-class high-speed trains use a platform height of 1250mm, compared with 550mm on standard-speed passenger lines and 380mm on some older narrow-gauge lines. This dimension was also derived from the Themiclesian-licensed MGR-200 trainsets. Therefore, Menghean G-class trains require their own specially-built platforms at major stations, and other trains cannot be assigned to these platforms during peak travel periods. As Menghean G-class trains also require 25 kV AC overhead lines and different security gates, even if the platform heights were the same, the trains would not be compatible, so there was no initial effort to revise the MGR-200 family for 550mm platforms.

Short-distance K trains usually use either 550mm or 1250mm platforms for the entire route, but a few K trains stop at stations with both platform heights. The Railroad Regulatory Agency concluded that the 700mm height gap is too large for an able-bodied passenger to climb, even with two to three fold-out steps or an extending ladder. Instead, trains running these routes are built with two sets of doors, one at each platform height. On some trains the 550mm door is at one side of the carriage, and the 1250mm door is at the other; on other trains, especially bilevel ones, the doors may be side-by-side.

Express freight service

In 2014, alongside early negotiations on the Northern Road project, Menghe Railways expressed its interest in developing a transcontinental high-speed freight line. The first proposal, which never progressed beyond the drawing board but appeared on a slideshow at a conference on THHSR development, carried intermodal containers inside aerodynamic fairings which opened up, clamshell-style, for loading and unloading by crane.

Further work on the high-speed container concept ran into a number of financial and engineering challenges, including differing weight loads on empty and full trains, long acceleration and stopping times, poor performance on turns, and high track wear. Even if all of these problems were resolved, the costs were still projected to be uneconomical for shipping heavy goods.

Menghe Railways suspended research on high-speed container trains in 2016, shifting instead to a focus on light cargo. The resulting designs aimed to move mail, online-order packages, perishable food, and other lightweight, time-sensitive goods, which would otherwise be shipped in the cargo holds of aircraft. Market assessments concluded that there is a greater demand for high-speed shipment of these goods, especially as Menghe transitions to a consumer-driven economy with a large e-commerce sector.

A prototype train designed along these lines was unveiled in November 2017. Marketed as Bŏngae (lightning), it is a battery electric multiple unit with a power car at either end and five freight cars in the middle. The freight cars have roll-down doors on each side, and packages inside are stacked in airmail-type carts. The high-capacity battery electric power system allows the train to travel on high-speed track between cities, then switch to a non-electrified branch line at the city outskirts, bringing goods directly to a freight station, container terminal, or private shipping company warehouse. When running on batteries, the train has a total range of 50 km at 120 km/h or 100 km at 80 km/h. In addition to charging from the overhead wires while in transit, it can also recharge at stations, a process which takes 15-20 minutes when starting from a nearly-empty battery.

The first production-model Bŏngae trains, designated MGHR-900 series, entered service in March 2020. As of that year, only six cities in the northeast (Songrimsŏng, Baekjin, Chŏngdo, Donggyŏng, Anchŏn, and Haeju) have added the necessary connections between their high-speed and freight lines and modified freight platforms for unloading and recharging the new trains. If the trial program proves succesful, more cities will be added to the network, which will be expanded to the south and west. There is also discussion of running MGHR-900 series trains on the Trans-Hemithea High-Speed Railway, where passenger traffic is projected to be well below the tracks' capacity.

Rolling stock

Menghean high-speed trains are designated as either MGR (for G-class trains) or MKR (for K-class trains). All are multiple units, as opposed to locomotives, and all have sealed, enclosed connections between cars. The "_00" designations refer to families of multiple units, with individual models designated _01, _02, _03, and so on. Often, two 8-car (or 10-car) units may be joined end-to-end to form a longer train.

The arrangement of cars in each multiple unit is marked using the following abbreviations, standard in Menghean nomenclature. Cars with multiple functions or seating types are denoted with a slash between labels, and individual cars are separated with a hyphen.

  • U: driver's cab (front or back end)
  • PCh: premium sleeper
  • 1Ch: first-class sleeper
  • 2Ch: second-class sleeper
  • PJ: premium seat
  • 1J: first-class seat
  • 2J: second-class seat
  • S: buffet or food stand

MKR-100

MGR-101
  • Origin: Ostland
  • Entry to service: 2002
  • Length:
    • MKR-101: 8 cars (U/1J, 2J, 2J, 2J, S/2J, 2J, 2J, 1J/U)
    • MKR-102: 8 cars (U/1J, 2J, 2J, S/2J, 2J, 2J, 1J, 1J/U)
    • MKR-103: 16 cars (U/1J, 1J, 1J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, S/2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J/U)
    • MKR-104: 16 cars (U/2J, 1Ch, 1Ch, 1Ch, 1Ch, 1Ch, 1Ch, 1Ch, S/2J, 1Ch, 1Ch, 1Ch, 1Ch, 1Ch, 1Ch, 2J/U)
  • Top speed: 200 km/h
  • Platform height: 550mm
  • Power compatibility: 3 kV DC

MGR-200

MGR-202
  • Origin: Themiclesia
    • Based on: TR-7 trainset
  • Entry to service: 2006
  • Length:
    • MGR-201: 8 cars (U/2J, 2J, 2J, 1J, S/2J, 2J, 2J, 2J/U)
    • MGR-202: 8 cars (U/2J, 1J, 2J, 1J, S/2J, 2J, 1J, 2J/U)
    • MGR-203: 16 cars (U/2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, S, 1J, 1J, 1J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J/U)
    • MGR-204: 8 cars (U/1J, 2J, 2J, 2J, S/2J, 2J, 2J, 1J/U)
    • MGR-205: 16 cars (U/1J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, S, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 1J, 1J/U)
  • Top speed: 285 km/h
  • Platform height: 1250mm
  • Power compatibility: 25 kV AC, 50 Hz

MGR-300

MGR-301
  • Origin: Eisenmaat (with Menghean changes)
  • Entry to service: 2009
  • Length:
    • MGR-301: 8 cars (U/2J, 2J, 2J, S/2J, 1J, 2J, 2J, 2J/U)
    • MGR-302: 8 cars (U/1J, 2J, 2J, S/2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 1J/U)
    • MGR-303: 16 cars (U/1J, 1J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, S, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 1J/U)
    • MGR-304: 16 cars (U/PJ/1J, 1J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, S, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 1J/PJ/U)
    • MGR-305: 16 cars (U/2J, 1Ch, 1Ch, 1Ch, 1Ch, 1Ch, 1Ch, 1Ch, S/2J, 1Ch, 1Ch, 1Ch, 1Ch, 1Ch, 1Ch, 2J/U)
  • Top speed: 350 km/h
  • Platform height: 1250mm
  • Power compatibility: 25 kV AC, 50 Hz

MKR-400

MKR-403
  • Origin: domestic
  • Entry to service: 2011
  • Length:
    • MKR-401: 10 cars (U, 1J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, U)
    • MKR-402: 10 cars (U, 1J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, U)
    • MKR-403: 20 cars (U, 1J, 1J, 1J, S, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, U)
  • Top speed: 240 km/h
  • Platform height:
    • MKR-401: 1250mm
    • MKR-402: 1250mm and 550mm
    • MKR-403: 1250mm and 550mm
  • Power compatibility: multiple
    • 25 kV AC, 50 Hz
    • 3 kV DC

MGR-500

MGR-500
  • Origin: domestic
  • Entry to service: 2015
  • Length:
    • MGR-501: 8 cars (U/PJ, 2J, 2J, 2J, S/2J, 2J, 2J, 1J/U)
    • MGR-502: 16 cars (U/PJ/1J, 1J, 1J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, S, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 1J/PJ/U)
    • MGR-503: 8 cars (U/PJ/1J, 1J, 2J, 2J, S/2J, 2J, 2J, 1J/PJ/U)
    • MGR-504: 8 cars (U/PJ/1J, PCh/1J, 1J, 2J, S/2J, 2J, 2J, 1J/U)
    • MGR-505: 16 cars (U/PJ/1J, PCh, 1J, 1J, 2J, 2J, 2J, S, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 2J, 1J/PJ/U)
    • MGR-506: 8 cars (U/PJ/1J, PCh, 1J, 2J, S/2J, 2J, 2J, 1J/U)
  • Top speed: 400 km/h
  • Platform height: 1250mm
  • Power compatibility: 25 kV AC, 50 Hz

MKR-600

Double MKR-601
  • Origin: domestic
  • Entry to service: 2017
  • Length:
    • MKR-601: 8 cars (U/1J, 2J, 2J, 2J, S/2J, 2J, 2J, 1J/U)
    • MKR-602: 8 cars (U/PJ/1J, 2J, 2J, 2J, S/2J, 2J, 2J, 1J/U)
  • Top speed: 300 km/h
  • Platform height: 1250mm
  • Power compatibility: multiple
    • 25 kV AC, 50 Hz
    • 3 kV DC

MGR-800

MGR-801 sleeper car.
  • Origin: domestic
  • Entry to service: 2020
  • Length:
    • MGR-801: 16 cars (U/2Ch, 2Ch, 2Ch, 2Ch, 2Ch, 2Ch, 2Ch, 2Ch, S, 2Ch, 2Ch, 2Ch, 2Ch, 2Ch, 2Ch, 2Ch/U)
    • MGR-802: 16 cars (U/2Ch, PCh/1Ch, 1Ch, 1Ch, 1Ch, 2Ch, 2Ch, 2Ch, S, 2Ch, 2Ch, 2Ch, 2Ch, 2Ch, 2Ch, 2Ch/U)
  • Top speed: 350 km/h
  • Platform height: 1250mm
  • Power compatibility: 25 kV AC, 50 Hz

Stations

Departures area of Haeju West Station, with ticket gates visible on the right. On high-speed platforms, there are security checkpoints beyond them.

Layout

All Menghean high-speed rail stations are of level 4 or above, and located in major urban areas or on their outskirts. Most large city stations in Menghe serve a combination of high-speed and other passenger trains, to allow convenient transfers from commuter and regional rail. Because Menghean high speed trains have their doors set a height of 1250mm above rail level, and because they use AC rather than DC current on overhead lines, G and some K trains must use different platforms from conventional-speed rail. Security procedures, described below, also require separate platforms.

In all cases, passengers wait for their trains in a large "departures" terminal, and only descend to the platforms in the 15 to 20 minutes ahead of the train's departure. By 2020, all high-speed stations have also been built or modified with separate entrance and exit gates to ease the flow of crowds. New stations and expansions generally adhere to architect Im Do-yŏn's principles of station design, with ample lighting and an intuitive layout. New stations in particular follow a tri-level design, with the "departures" area above the platforms and the "arrivals" area below them.

Security

During construction of Menghe's first high-speed rail line, the Railroad Regulatory Agency concluded that high-speed trains should be held to a higher security standard than conventional ones. The network's visible nature and symbolic link to Menghe's economic miracle make it an attractive target for terrorist attacks, and the train's high speed increases the danger posed by a derailment or onboard blast.

Some initial studies proposed installing security checkpoints and bag scanners at the entrances of all high-speed stations, but because these stations also serve other trains, such checkpoints would be easily bypassed unless present on all rural stations in the country. Instead, the RRA concluded that the most practical solution was to install a security checkpoint at each ticketing gate between the departure terminal and the platform. Critics have called the move a form of security theater, noting that passengers are often rushed through without thorough inspection to ease crowd flow; nevertheless, during the late 2010s, Menghe responded to terrorist attacks in Innominada, Dayashina, and Tír Glas by increasing the thoroughness of security checks and installing new scanning equipment.

Locations

While some high-speed lines were simply run through existing stations, or through extensions added on to them, the rapid increase in the volume of train ridership in the last two decades has driven a major push for new station construction. As such, many high-speed rail links have been connected to entirely new stations, which in some cases serve regional and commuter rail as well. Due to the large amount of land required and the cost of running track through built-up areas, these stations are often built on the city outskirts, or in "new development zones" of high-density construction. In all cases, the new stations are furnished with ample bus and (where possible) metro connections running to the city center and other destinations.

Accidents and incidents

The deadliest accident on the Menghean rail system took place on July 5, 2013, when a MGR-301 train en route from Taekchŏn to Junggyŏng derailed at 325 kilometers per hour, causing 89 deaths and leaving 102 passengers injured, 29 of them in critical condition. The proximate cause was buckling in the rails, brought on by high temperatures and facilitated by flooding around the embankment. As the official investigation continued, however, it revealed that engineers had not conducted proper stressing when laying the continuous welded track. Construction officials had also bribed regulators to secure approval of the project, and had silenced workers who threatened to speak out about the unsafe cost-cutting measures. In the wake of the investigation, six officials in administrative and construction positions were sentenced to death, and dozens more were prosecuted. The Jinyi-Junggyŏng section of track was subsequently closed down for inspection and repair, and the RRA vowed to tighten regulation of new construction. Purchases of high-speed rail tickets fell sharply after the accident, but they have since then recovered and continued to soar.

During the leadup to Victory Day celebrations in 2014, a secessionist with ties to the Gang of Eight was intercepted outside Donggyŏng Central Station with a bag containing homemade explosives, an event the Internal Intelligence Agency publicized as proof of its effective counter-terrorism effort.

In August 2019, during late-stage construction of high-speed track from Muang Sing to Ban Xoang, an armed Railway Police unit spotted suspicious individuals trespassing on the track area. After a brief altercation, the armed police opened fire, killing one trespasser and wounding two others. Four survivors were detained in total. While the Ministry of Internal Security defended the incident as a successful strike against sabotage, they later sought to cover it up after an investigation failed to turn up evidence of sabotage efforts. Critics accused the MIS of resorting to force too hastily, and racially profiling ethnic Argentan refugees who were trying to cross the tracks.

See also