After election victory, Moon revives railroad plan

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After election victory, Moon revives railroad plan

South Korea will restart a project to reconnect its railroads with North Korea’s in time for the second anniversary of the first inter-Korean summit in 2018 - even without Pyongyang’s quid pro quo.

Seoul’s Ministry of Unification will hold a consultative meeting to discuss a feasibility study on the railroad project, announced its spokesman, Yoh Sang-key, on Monday.

The plan is to build a new line in Gangwon connecting Gangneung to Jaejin Station in Goseong County, the northernmost stop along South Korea’s eastern coast just below the military demarcation line with the North.

None of the immediate plans concern North Korea yet, but the government is banking on hopes that once sanctions are eventually lifted, travel between the two Koreas can be restored.

Reconnecting the two Koreas’ rail networks was one of the agreements reached at South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s first summit at the truce village of Panmunjom in April 2018.

The two sides went as far as to hold a groundbreaking ceremony for the project in Kaesong in December of that year, but a breakdown in denuclearization talks between Pyongyang and Washington in February 2019 left the project in limbo for over a year.

Perhaps buoyed by a landslide victory for its ruling Democratic Party in the general elections last week, the Moon administration wants to breathe new fire into its signature policy of economic engagement with the North.

According to Yoh, the Unification and Transport ministries will hold a ceremony at Jaejin Station for the railroad project next Monday, which marks the second anniversary of the Panmunjom summit.

The ministry plans to designate the railroad project as an inter-Korean exchange and cooperation initiative, which will allow the government to expedite a feasibility study.

The total distance of railroad set to be constructed in South Korea is 110.9 kilometers (69 miles), following a path that used to connect the two Koreas’ eastern coast across the demilitarized zone.

The single railway that currently exists between the South’s Jaejin Station and the North’s Kamho Station has remained out of operations since 2007, when the two Koreas conducted a test run for the train line. Jaejin is also where South Korea operates its eastern coast customs office into the North, one of the two official entry points along the DMZ.

A western railroad was also planned two years ago to connect Dorasan Station in the South to the North’s border town of Kaesong, home to a major industrial complex that used to be a linchpin of inter-Korean ties.

In June 2018 the two sides conducted joint inspections covering around 2,600 kilometers of the North’s railways as a preliminary step toward a modernization project.

While Seoul’s new plans suggest new confidence on Moon’s part to reinvigorate ties, North Korea has for months remained totally unreceptive to dealings with Seoul. Most notably, Pyongyang last year demanded the South pull out its assets from the tourist zone in Mount Kumgang, which lies along the rail line Seoul seeks to reconnect.

Pyongyang remains insistent that the South detach itself from a U.S.-led economic pressure campaign on the North as a condition for inter-Korean exchanges.

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