August 5, 2009—Reportedly running since 1978, a special passenger train takes children from one of North Korea's northernmost provinces on an hour-long ride to and from school. Video.
© 2009 National Geographic (AP)
Ryanggang Province (known in South Korea as Yanggang Province) is remote and mountainous.
Bordering China, it's more than 430 miles from the North Korean capital, Pyongyang.
This special train, with only two passenger carriages, takes children from some of the small villages in the hills to a school in the district's main town.
The train moves slowly.
It takes around one hour to travel its route of less than 10 miles, stopping at five stations to pick up children.
Inside the train's carriages, portraits of North Korea's leaders - Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il - look down on the children as they pore over their books.
It is expected for North Koreans when talking to foreigners to attribute everything good in their lives to the abilities of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.
The school train is no different.
Residents, train, and school staff all say that the train service was first set up in 1978 at the behest of Kim Il Sung, and they all call it the "school train of love".
SOUNDBITE: (Korean) Hyon Sung Chon, Headmaster, Yupyong Middle School:
"Thanks to the love and care of our great President, since 1 February 1978, a "school train of love" has been running to our Yupyong middle school. This school train has kept on going strongly, carrying about 2,000 pupils over 30 years, which shows the superiority of the socialist system in our country."
Before the special train service, residents say studying had been impossible for local children.
SOUNDBITE: (Korean) Ri Sun Nyo, Resident, Yupyong village district:
"In case of my family, six of my sons and daughters went to school by this school train. And even nowadays, my four grandsons and granddaughters are studying to their heart's content while going and coming by school train. Studying had been impossible in old times, but the great President sent this school train and so, all of them are now studying very well, I must say."
Kim Il Sung died in 1994, and his son Kim Jong Il continues to rule the country.
North Koreans are taught strict allegiance to Kim Il Sun and Kim Jong Il from an early age, especially when speaking to foreigners.
A train crew member is no exception.
SOUNDBITE: (Korean) Kim Su Jong, School Train Crew Member:
"I myself also studied, travelling with this school train. At that time I did not realize it, but while working as a member of this school train after graduation, I was able to realize, what great loving care and solicitude our fatherly and Great Leader showed for future generations."
Officially, Ryanggang Province is closely associated with Kim Il Sung's life.
North Korea was established in 1948, three years after Korea gained independence from Japan. And, North Koreas official history claims Kim Il Sung waged a successful guerilla campaign against the Japanese in the province during the 1930s and 1940s.
According to the state, the children are given free education. Theyre expected to put their education to use for the good of the country.
Nowadays, its reported that 76 children use the special train to go to and from school every day.
SOUNDBITE: (Korean) Han Su Hyang, Student, Yupyong Middle School:
"I am determined to study harder, going to school on this school train, to become a scientist in the future."
According to official records, the school train managed to keep running through some of the worst years the country has experienced since the Korean War - the mid and late 1990s.
While North Korea has consistently been a mysterious and secretive society throughout its 60 year history, for these children anyway, the train appears to be making a big difference.