Reconnecting Seoul-Shinuiji Railroad a PriorityOut of all the achievements, big and small, and the hints at improving ties that the South-North summit meeting has brought about, the most exciting news of all is none other than the linking of the railroad that will connect the two countries. During the South Korean delegation’s stay in the North, the ＇Unification Train＇ was mentioned and Kim Jong-il, Chairman of the National Defense Commission, suggested, ＂Let’s mobilize the military on both sides to reactivate the railroad from Seoul to Shinuiju.＂
The linking of the railroad, which was cut off by US and Russian troops, is not only symbolically important, but is also an imminent project for the sake of our “nation＇s balanced economic development” as outlined in the June 15 South-North Joint Declaration.
It seems that both the South and the North have agreed to link the Seoul-Shinuiju Railroad first, before other discontinued lines, as hinted at by President Kim Dae-jung’s emphasis in his arrival speech after the summit meeting.
The section between Seoul and Shinuiju is perfect to carry “Unification Train Number One” - considering the simple nature of the reconstruction and the expected after-effects. The size of the rail is also standard on both disconnected sides. If expert opinions are true, that say it will cost the Koreas about $130 million and 19 months of construction, then this will be the primary task at hand for South and North Korea. I hope that for the next inter-Korean conference sometime in the coming months, the governments will discuss the project in detail and evaluate the site to commence construction.
The reactivation of the Seoul-Shinuiju Railroad has an immediate win-win effect on joint economic cooperation. Currently, it costs $900 to $1000 to move a 20-foot container from Inchon to Nampo by ship. However, done by train, it would only cost $300, 30 percent of what it would cost to move a container from Seoul to Pyongyang. This is an enormous savings in transport costs and would act as the main channel for South-North ventures. Furthermore, if the railroad is linked with the Siberian Railroad or with the railroad that crosses Manju, then it would truly be the opening of the “Iron Silkroad” that President Kim has mentioned.
Other than economic profits, the railroad will bring about countless benefits, such as the loosening of tensions on both sides of the DMZ and the enhancing of the already conciliatory atmosphere, simply by linking a distance of 20 kilometers - which leaves no reason for either party to hesitate.
Some big corporations have already shown an interest in joining the railroad-recovery business, but I believe that the government should be in charge of the operational decisions. First of all, it should link the basic section as soon as possible and gradually promote the plan to build additional crossroads. The cost will be huge, but it is also clever for us to promote a cross railroad project, along with the construction of electric-power lines at railroad sites. It will benefit the industrial complex in the western area of North Korea such as Shinuiju, Nampo, Haeju and Kaesung. Separate from the inter-Korean summit, the National Assembly should also support financial resources through occasions like the Autumn Organization. I look forward to the reconnection of the heart of the Korean Peninsula by the linking of the Seoul-Shinuiju Railroad.
by Sohn Byung-soo