Thursday, May 17, 2007

From Seoul to Beijing by Train?

Well, not just yet. But today's historic test run of two trains between North and South Korea is a step in the right direction.

While South Korea is geographically on a peninsula, logistically it is an island. The last trains to cross the border were in the 1950's. (A fact unknown to more than one Lonely Planet traveller)

Today at two locations diesel trains crossed the heavily fortified Military Demarcation Line between the two countries. The two trains carried a total of 300 carefully selected passengers in each train, 100 from the south and 50 from the north.

In the eastern section, the train departed from Kumgangsan Station in the North for the South's Jejin Station on a 25.5-kilometer track. The other train left Munsan Station in the South bound for Kaesong Station in the North on a 27.3-kilometer track in the western section.

The event, including speeches by ministers from both countries was covered live on four major TV stations this lunchtime.

Initial hopes are for regular trains to start carrying workers to the industrial centre at Kaesong, and for tourists to be able to use the trains for visiting Mount Kumgang in the east, in place of the existing bus route. No North Korean visitors to the South would be expected, I guess.

Meanwhile, the railway between the North Korean port of Najin and the Russian town of Khasan is being eyed up for repairs and improvement by the Russians, who would like to develop the port into a logistics hub and and future oil and gas terminal. The port is also close to the Chinese border and Beijing has promised Pyongyang $1 billion to improve the port and the railway as well.

According to Senior Executive Director of Korail, 2008 is the target for introduction of through-trains between Seoul and China. This would, of course, require the co-operation of the North Koreans, who already run through-trains from China to Pyongyang.

That target seems a little optimistic to me, considering how long these tests have taken to agree, however, I can foresee the possibility of the introduction of freight trains along the route at some point in the future. That should reduce transportation costs for South Korean exporters. Maybe one day the station at Dorasan will see some cross border passengers.

News links : Yonhap , BBC (including video) , KBS , NY Times , Yahoo News , MBN (in Korean, but with video), Hankyoreh , Australian News, and a recent strong editorial from the Chosun Ilbo.


daeguowl said...

I was going to make a comment about the fishes but you're not allowing comments on that post? You must trust your wife...mine would probably put me in a pond of piranhas.

Anonymous said...

Whatever the reasons behind I feel it was a right step towards unification on the Korean Peninsula.

"Maybe one day the station at Dorasan will see some cross border passengers."

Yes I really hope and pray for and I also wish I could travel from Busan to Algeciras, Spain before my life ends on Earth.