South Korea’s vice Transport Minister Kim Jeong-ryeol (left) shakes hands with his North Korean counterpart vice Railway Minister Kim Yun-hyok before holding a meeting to discuss cooperation in railway at the border village of Panmunjom on Tuesday. [Photo provided by the Joint Press Corps]
The two Koreas agreed on Tuesday to jointly inspect the conditions of railroads in North Korea starting next month as the first step towards the ambitious goal of reconnecting the railways along the east and west coast once or if international sanctions are lifted on development in denuclearization in the North.
After a series of talks, authorities from Seoul and Pyongyang set July 24 as the date for their first joint inspection of the railroads built under Japanese colonial rule and sealed off after the two Koreas were bisected at the end of World War II.
The rail lines were briefly open for cross-border transport in the 2000s following the first-ever inter-Korean summit meeting in 2000 and the second in 2007. During the last opening in December 2007, freight trains left from Munsan, a border town in the South, to Pongdong in the North, near the inter-Korean industrial park in Kaesong. The two Koreas then explored the project of connecting on to North Korea’s northwestern border city of Shiniju. Rail services were entirely cut off in 2008 due to North Korea’s nuclear tests and hard-line stance of conservative governments.
The land transport conditions in the North are so terrible that its leader Kim Jong-un jokingly advised South Korean President Moon Jae-in to fly to Pyongyang while inviting him during their first summit meeting in the truce village of Panmunjom on April 27, when they agreed to end hostility and revive ties. The rail connection was part of the agreement.
The inspection to get an idea of the scope of necessary work to modernize the rail conditions in the North would be as far as Seoul can go at this stage as sanctions on both unilateral and international levels cannot be removed unless Pyongyang makes a decisive move on denuclearization.
The inspectors will examine the lines connecting the two Koreas along the west and the east coast, which Seoul envisions for trains to ultimately run from the southern port city of Busan, across North Korea and Russia to finally shift to the Trans-Siberian line for deliveries to the European markets.
By Kim Sung-hoon and Cho Jeehyun
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