Inter-Korean railway test

There has been a plethroa of articles on the ROK/DPRK train crossing.  Here is a grab-bag of facts and sources:


Joong Ang Daily
Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung expressed hope that regular inter-Korean rail services would transport workers to an industrial complex in the North’s city of Kaesong as well as serve as a mode of transportation for South Korean tourists at the Mount Kumgang resort.  However, North Korea has only agreed to one test run.

The sticking point was the number of passengers aboard the trains. South Korea stressed the need for an equal number of North Koreans, but North Korea declined the offer, citing unspecified reasons, ministry officials said. The two sides will exchange passenger lists via an inter-Korean economic office in Kaesong tomorrow.

The two Koreas are set to conduct test runs on a 27.3-kilometer (17-mile) line between Munsan Station and Kaesong Station in the western section, and on a 25.5-kilometer line between Jejin Station and Kumgang Station in the eastern section.

Rare experience aboard N. Korean train across the border
Sohn Suk-joo

At the urging of North Korean conductors, 100 South Koreans and 50 North Koreans boarded a five-car train at 11:25 a.m. With no speaker system at Kumgangsan Station at the North’s scenic mountain along the east coast, conductors repeated “Please board the train” through a loudspeaker mounted upon a South Korean-made Hyundai Starex utility vehicle.

Painted green on the main body and the roof a faint gray, the facade of the train was far from modern. “The train looks like South Korea’s obsolete third-class train, but its ability is better than that,” said Lim Jong-il, a South Korean official at the Ministry of Construction and Transportation.

South Korean Construction Minister Lee Yong-sup, Kim Yong-sam, the North’s railway minister, and some 20 South and North Korean journalists crowded into the second car of the train. The smell of new paint assailed the nostrils upon ascending the steps, while a pair of portraits of Kim Il-sung and his son Kim Jong-il hung on the wall above the door.

The seating arrangement was face-to-face, and refreshments for passengers were set on a small table in front of the window — one lemon-lime soda, one strawberry juice, one bottled water, two apples and a pear. North Korean female attendants served a cup of ginseng tea for passengers later.

The upright, ivory-colored vinyl seats were a little bit uncomfortable and did not recline, but the cushions were softer than they appeared to be.

Outside the window, a uniformed North Korean conductor waved a red flag and goose-stepped past the train, which signaled the impending departure. A few North Korean security officers came inside to check the number of passengers and asked journalists jostling for position to sit down.   

At 11:27 a.m. a long whistle sounded, reminiscent of an old-time steam locomotive. The train spluttered back and forth several times and then slowly started forward. “North Korean trains usually whistle a lot,” a South Korean transportation official said. 

North Korean middle school students, who attended a ceremony, started to wave their hands, and South Korean passengers responded in kind. The train moved out of Kumgangsan Station at the speed of 10 kilometers per hour, and North Koreans working nearby just looked at the train without reacting in a friendly manner.

Some 50 meters away from the railway on the right side, a paved road appeared as the scenic Mount Geumgang faded from sight. Rice paddies were waiting for rice seedlings to be planted, but no peasant was seen working outside.

Unexpectedly, well wishers were South Korean tourists traveling to the Mount Geumgang resort in a convoy of eight buses. “At this time of the day tourist buses go to the resort,” a South Korean official said.

At 11:30 a.m. the stretch of hills and mountains continued, and the clouds moved quickly against the blue sky, cleansed from the previous day’s rain.

A few Toyota jeeps driven by soldiers, military jeeps and trucks drove parallel with the train and then fell behind. North Korean soldiers were stationed at the checkpoints of major intersections.

Then the track turned sharply, a rare occurrence on South Korean track. The sharp turns came again and again, and a woman peeked outside the window at a nearby village.

The overall atmosphere was friendly, a throwback to a picnic in the 1970s-80s on a slow, squeaking train. Hills and mountains passed by, and splendid pine trees of all kinds of shapes. After awhile the Nam River appeared on the right side of the train. At one village, some 10 residents came out and looked over the communal wall to watch the passing train.

At 11:50 a.m. the train passed Samilpo Station. The painted name on the station was very small, like Kumgangsan Station, and an oversized portrait of Kim Il-sung hung on the front of the station, along with pro-communist and cult propaganda slogans.

The train crossed the river on a bridge restored with steel plates provided by South Korea. Outside the window, North Korean tourist attractions such as Haegumgang and Samilpo were seen a little farther away.

At 11:50 a.m. some passengers pushed up the windows, and the unpolluted air coming through the open windows refreshed them. A group of 10 North Korean soldiers stood guarding a storage house of diesel engine trains built for the railway test run. There was no other train in sight.

The train slowed down at Kamho Station, where North Korean customs officials were stationed. It was 11:55 a.m.

Around 12:00 p.m. four customs officials and two conductors boarded each car of the train. One of them shouted, “We fervently welcome you who have become the first passengers of the train! Now we will start customs clearance procedures.”

Conductors checked the identities of the passengers and digital cameras. They asked a passenger to delete a photo of portraits of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il that had been blurred from the shaking of the camera.

At 12:15 p.m. the conductors suddenly moved to the exit and disembarked. They must have gotten orders to let it pass, as the inspection took longer than expected. The train started to move again right away.

“Now you will see an outpost about 200 meters. It is the Military Demarcation Line,” said Kim Kyong-jung, chief of the inter-Korean railway team at the Ministry of Construction and Transportation.

A sharp whistle blew, and the train picked up speed, double its previous pace. The shaking was palpable, but not enough to affect the bottles on the small table. With the speed increasing, the frequency of the whistle’s call also increased.

In five minutes, the train passed the Northern Limit Line and went into the Demilitarized Zone. At 12:21 p.m., it passed the Military Demarcation Line to roars of applause. The train slowed a bit and the passengers became quiet, awaiting arrival.

At 12:25 p.m., a South Korean tourist observatory appeared, and some 200 tourists on the porch waved their hands eagerly, welcoming the North Korean train. Wide paved roads came into view and the train arrived at Jejin Station five minutes later. Amid the loud sound of a welcoming brass band and the cheering crowd, the train stopped at a South Korean station for the first time in more than half a century.

Trains cross inter-Korean border for first time in over 50 years

A North Korean train traveling on reconnected track along the east coast of the Korean Peninsula on Thursday crossed the heavily armed border to return to its point of departure after a brief stay here.

At the same time, a South Korean train returned to the South in the west of the Korean Peninsula.

Earlier in the day, the two trains, one carrying 100 South Koreans and the other 50 North Koreans, crossed the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) dividing the two countries for the first time in more than half a century.

“It took more than half a century to cross this short, approximately 20-kilometer distance. We have to prevent anyone from blocking the railways. They were so hard to reconnect,” Kim Yong-sam, North Korea’s railway minister, said in a luncheon speech after arriving here.

In response, South Korean Construction Minister Lee Yong-sup hailed the test run of the cross-border railways, suggesting South and North Korea cooperate in promoting the mutual interest and prosperity of the Korean people.

At 11:30 a.m., Lee, who led the 100-member delegation to North Korea Thursday morning, boarded the North Korean train in Kumgangsan Station near the scenic Mount Geumgang resort for a test run on a 25.6-kilometer track in the eastern section of the peninsula.

At the same time, Kwon Ho-ung, chief councilor of the North Korean Cabinet, who had led the 50-member delegation to the South, boarded the South Korean train at Munsan Station in the western side of the peninsula on a restored 27.3-kilometer track, along with his South Korean counterpart, Lee Jae-joung.

Before the trains departed, South and North Korea held ceremonies to mark the historic event at Kumgangsan and Munsan stations, respectively.

“I hope it will contribute to forming a joint economic community and making balanced development on the Korean Peninsula. A new curtain of peace has been raised on the peninsula,” Lee said in a commemorative speech.

In his speech, Kwon said that North Korea will make every effort to make sure that the “train of unification” runs along a “track” of inter-Korean collaboration, with its emphasis on peace and understanding.

“Right at this moment, however, the challenge from divisive forces inside and outside is continuing. We should not waiver or be derailed from the track of national sovereignty and inter-Korean collaboration,” Kwon said.

The one-time test run came only after North Korea reluctantly agreed to provide military security arrangements last week. The tracks have been set to undergo tests since they were restored in 2003, while a set of parallel roads has been in use since 2005 for South Koreans traveling to the North.

In May 2006, North Korea abruptly called off the scheduled test runs, apparently under pressure from its hard-line military. The cancellation led to the mothballing of an economic accord in which North Korea would receive US$80 million worth of light industry raw materials from the South in return for its natural resources. North Korea’s subsequent missile and nuclear weapons tests further clouded hopes of implementing the agreement.

The reconnection of roads and train lines severed during the 1950-53 Korean War was one of the tangible inter-Korean rapprochement projects agreed upon following the historic summit between then South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in 2000.

South Korea hopes to use the restored railways to help North Korean workers commute to a joint industrial complex in the North Korean border city of Kaesong as well as to transport South Korean tourists to the North’s scenic Mount Geumgang.

The Gyeongui (Seoul-Sinuiju) line cutting across the western section of the border was severed on June 12 in 1951, while the Donghae (East Coast) line crossing the eastern side was cut shortly after the outbreak of the Korean War.

South and North Korea used radio communication between Dorasan Station in the South and Panmun Station in the North for the western rail line, and between the South’s Jejin Station and the North’s Kamho Station for the eastern one. The stations are closest ones to the border on both sides.

In March, the two Koreas agreed to put humanitarian and economic inter-Korean projects back on track just days after North Korea promised to take the first steps toward its nuclear dismantlement in return for energy aid and other concessions from the other five members of the six-party talks.

South and North Korea are still technically at war, as the Korean War ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.

Korean Train Crossing Seen as Sign of Progress
New York Times

Choe Sang-Hun


South Korea has long dreamed of building a trans-Korea railroad that would connect its train network to China and to the Trans-Siberian Railway in the former Soviet Union, creating a so-called Iron Silk Road.

North Korea blocks overland access to Asia, which makes South Koreans “feel as if we live in an island,” the South Korean transportation minister, Lee Yong Sup, said yesterday.

A trans-Korea railroad would offer a faster and cheaper way for South Korea to bring exports that are now shipped by sea to China and Europe. It would also provide a shortcut for Russian oil and other natural resources transported to South Korea. Such a rail system would save South Korea $34 to $50 a ton in shipping costs, said Lim Jae Kyung, a researcher at the Korea Transport Institute.

But before the dream of a trans-Korea rail system comes true, transportation analysts and government officials say, years of confidence-building talks and billions of dollars in investment in North Korea’s decrepit rail system will be needed.

Officials acknowledge that such a dream will not be made real until after North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons and improves its human rights record. Those moves would help build public support in South Korea for large investments across the border and would open the way for international development aid.

South Korean officials say a trans-Korea railroad would invigorate inter-Korean trade, which tripled from $430 million in 2000 to $1.35 billion last year.

It would also bring cash to North Korea, which could collect an estimated $150 million a year in transit fees from trains that pass through its territory, according to some estimates.

But it is unclear whether or when North Korea might agree to regular train service across the border.

Procuring international aid to renovate the rail network and letting trains from one of Asia’s most vibrant economies, carrying exports and tourists, rumble through its isolated territory could threaten the North Korean regime, analysts and others say.

The agreement came after South Korea promised to send North Korea 400,000 tons of rice, as well as $80 million worth of raw materials for shoes, soap and textiles.

South Korea has spent 544.5 billion won, or $589 million, on reconnecting the rail system, including 180 billion won in equipment, tracks and other material loaned to North Korea.

South Korean policy makers have called for patience in working toward reconciliation with the North. They have often been accused by conservative politicians and civic groups of giving in to North Korea’s strategy of extracting economic aid for every step toward reconciliation.

“This is a precious first step for a 1,000-mile journey,” Mr. Lee, the unification minister, said today.

South Korea has seen some tangible results in its overtures to the North in recent years.

The North Korean military cleared mines and moved some of its weapons to make room for the rail system and the Gaesong industrial complex. In addition, South Korean factory managers commute from Seoul to Gaesong using a road that was reconnected in 2004, and South Korean buses regularly take tourists to the Diamond Mountain resort in the North.


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