June 27, 2018 12:42
North and South Korea have agreed to form a committee that will conduct a feasibility study for a railway linking the North Korean cities of Kaesong and Sinuiju on the Chinese border.
Another feasibility study will be conducted on a railroad between North Korea's Mt. Kumgang resort and the Tumen River that forms part of the border with China.
Officials from the two sides reached the agreement in the border truce village of Panmunjom on Tuesday. North and South Korea will also hold talks Thursday about refurbishing roads in the North and next week to discuss ways of reforesting barren mountains in the North.
South Korea's interest in the rail links is practical. A railroad from Kaesong on the inter-Korean border to Sinuiju would give it overland access to China, and onward to Siberia and Mongolia to boost trade.
In 2003, the two Koreas briefly reconnected a severed rail line connecting Munsan in the South with Kaesong in the North in 2003 which already stretches all the way to Sinuiju. But the rail infrastructure is so antiquated that it requires a major overhaul.
Even the power grid is different on both sides. The South uses 25,000-volt alternating currents, while the North uses 3,000-volt direct currents. An official at the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport said, "We may face a more urgent need to build power stations than repairing railways."
North Korea still uses wooden sleepers and used rails imported from China and Russia. A railway engineer said trains runs at speeds of just 20 to 40 km for fear of tunnels and bridges collapsing.
The cost could be astronomical. One researcher at a state-run think tank here said, "We don't know how much North Korea wants to modernize its railway system, but if it is considering a transcontinental railway, you need to think of high-speed trains."
But to make that happen, international sanctions against the North need to be eased. Under UN Security Council resolutions, non-profit infrastructure projects can be permitted, but anything else is impossible for now.
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