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Seoul moves forward with inter-Korean railway project

A train on Gyeongui Line crosses the border and heads toward the North Korean territory in 2007 on a trial-run. But the service was suspended since 2008. (Yonhap)
A train on Gyeongui Line crosses the border and heads toward the North Korean territory in 2007 on a trial-run. But the service was suspended since 2008. (Yonhap)



The South Korean government is pushing to restart a long-stalled project to reconnect railways between the two Koreas, despite uncertainties surrounding inter-Korean relations.

Seoul’s Unification Ministry on Thursday said it has designated the construction of a railway along the east coast as an inter-Korean cooperative business, providing legal grounds for it to be exempted from a preliminary feasibility study in order to shorten the construction period.

The decision was made during a civilian-government committee on inter-Korean exchanges, presided over by Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul. The project would connect Gangneung, Gangwon Province to Jejin, the border town just south of the military demarcation line with the North, an extension of the South’s existing Donghae Line railway.

Once the 110.9-kilometer section is completed, the government hopes it will eventually link to a North Korean railway, enabling transit from Busan to Europe on rail.

“Since the last US-North Korea summit in Hanoi last year, inter-Korean relations remain stalled,” said Kim during the meeting. “We need to maintain the momentum of inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation, while arranging a chance for relations to improve. The construction will not only boost the local economy and contribute to balanced growth of regional economies, but also will complete the railway network of the peninsula and fulfill the peace economy.”

Railways and roads between the two Koreas were severed with the 1950-53 Korean War and ensuing separation of the peninsula. South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un agreed to reconnect them during the inter-Korean summit in April 2018.

To follow up on the leaders’ agreement, the two sides held joint inspections of railways in the North, but the project has been stalled due to the North’s provocations and UN-led sanctions against Pyongyang.

None of Seoul’s current plans concern Pyongyang yet, but Seoul hopes by the time the construction is completed on its side -- expected to take two to three years -- the sanctions would be lifted to allow travel across the border.

Seoul’s plan suggests South Korean President Moon’s commitment to boost inter-Korean projects, with less dependency on halted denuclearization negotiations between the US and North Korea.

The ministry is holding an event in Jejin on Monday to mark its commitment to push for the railway reconnection, on the occasion of the second anniversary of the inter-Korean summit. 

By Ahn Sung-mi (sahn@heraldcorp.com)

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