Donghae Line survey team will travel by busThe two Koreas are expected to carry out their inspection of the Donghae Line along the eastern coast by bus rather than train due to the poor condition of the North’s railroads.
Since last week, the North and South have been conducting a joint survey for a cross-border railway project.
Last Friday, South and North Korea kicked off a joint survey of the Gyeongui Line railway, which would connect Kaesong - just north of the inter-Korean border - to Sinuiju near the border separating North Korea and China. A 28-person team composed of South Korean government officials and railway experts departed from Seoul Station on Friday for the inter-Korean border to join with North Korean experts for an inspection of 400 kilometers (249 miles) of tracks along the western coast.
Starting Saturday, the Koreas will conduct a study of 800 kilometers of tracks along the eastern coast on the Donghae Line, which runs from Mount Kumgang to the Tumen River. But unlike the Gyeongui Line team, the Donghae Line team will head toward Wonsan, in North Korea’s eastern Kangwon Province, by bus instead of train.
“The Gyeongui Line survey team will end their inspection on Dec. 5 and return,” an official from South Korea’s Unification Ministry said on Monday. “After that, the Donghae Line survey team will take a bus to Wonsan, all the way to Anbyon Station, where they will transfer to a train and inspect all the way to the Tumen River.”
This official said that as the team travels by bus across the military demarcation line (MDL) to Anbyon Station in North Korea’s Anbyon County, Kangwon Province, it will “conduct necessary studies of the region along the way.”
While the team will travel by train as it conducts a survey of the region between Anbyon Station and the Tumen River, it will travel by bus from Kamho Station in Kosong County, Kangwon Province, near the inter-Korean border, to Mount Kumgang and Anbyon.
The joint survey is a step toward a cross-border infrastructure project aimed at modernizing North Korean train lines and connecting them to the South to aid Pyongyang’s economic development. The South Korean government initially proposed traveling to Kamho Station by train. However, during discussions on scheduling the joint survey, North Korea reportedly said running the train between Anbyon and Kamho was not possible.
“North Korea explained to us during the discussions that there were two areas on the tracks that were damaged due to typhoons or flooding,” a South Korean government official said. “The North Korean side has not yet completed the restoration, making the operation of the train difficult, so we decided that the survey team will examine this region by bus to confirm what is needed.”
Anbyon and Mount Kumgang are around 100 kilometers and 14 train stations apart.
A survey conducted by bus will require the experts to study the electricity and communication infrastructure without actually testing it with a train. There may also be damaged tracks other than the ones the North mentioned.
“As the actual survey is carried out, there is a possibility that the number of tracks that need to be repaired will increase,” said the South’s government official.
The fact that the railway inspection team has to travel by bus indicates how old and in need of repair the North’s tracks are. The actual connection of the railways could be a very costly and time-consuming process.
On the Donghae Line, there is a region south of the MDL of around 104 kilometers between Gangneung and Jejin in South Korea’s Gangwon that does not have tracks either.
“This joint survey is being conducted so that when there sanctions by the international community are lifted, we will be able to start construction right away,” said an official from the South’s Unification Ministry.
Last month, the United States endorsed the inter-Korean joint railways survey. The UN Security Council in turn granted sanctions exemptions that allowed the South to carry fuel and other equipment into the North for the inspection.
BY JEONG YONG-SOO, SARAH KIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]