Freight train bluesNorth Korea has raised doubts about the way cargo trains are managed between Munsan and Bongdong, near Kaeseong. In recent working-level talks with South Korea, Pyongyang suggested that the frequency of the trains should be reduced if trains were going to run empty. Apparently they don’t want the burden of going to Bongdong station for nothing. It sounds like a practical joke created by the haphazard policies of the current government.
Operating trains across the Korean Peninsula has a symbolic meaning. It represents the lowered tensions between the two Koreas. It also realizes the political slogan that we have heard so long: “Trains want to run.”
Economically cargo trains may reduce logistical costs for companies in the Kaeseong Industrial Complex. So it seems reasonable to extend rail connections and train operations between Seoul and Pyongyang.
However, the problem lies with our government’s insistence on producing visible results as soon as possible.
If cargo trains are to operate, there should be cargo to be carried. Relevant authorities should have quantified demand before launching the new railway route.
But they didn’t. They made Dec. 11, 2007, the day for the launch regardless of whether cargo existed.
The timing raises suspicions given that the service opened just a few days before the presidential elections.
As the empty trains became a target of criticism, the Ministry of Unification said the amount of cargo would increase a week after the launch.
But it hasn’t. A month and a half has passed and the cargo load has not significantly increased.
Some companies have even experienced difficulty accessing the train service. This indicates an overall problem in the design of the transportation system.
The government should thoroughly review the entire operation system for the trains. It aggravates people to see this absurd system continue. Above all, policy makers must consider running trains on a needs basis, instead of the current daily operation.
They also have to research carefully the demand for cargo trains.
The incoming government isn’t that enthusiastic about expanding the industrial complex in North Korea.
This means the incumbent government had better prepare reasons for the system’s existence.