South and North Korea agreed Tuesday to conduct a joint study on modernizing the railways that run through their borders “at an early date.”
The joint study will start first on the northern part of the Seoul-Sinuiju western railways from July 24 and then on the railways running along the eastern region of the Korean Peninsula, according to the unification ministry.
The agreements were reached after the two Koreas held working-level talks on the southern side of the truce village of Panmunjom to discuss railway cooperation in a follow-up on the summit between their leaders in April.
The meeting kicked off around 10 a.m. and was attended by a three-member South Korean delegation headed by Vice Transport Minister Kim Jeong-ryeol and a North Korean team led by Vice Railroad Minister Kim Yun-hyok.
“A long time has passed by before we met again, but I think our mind and determination about railway cooperation remain unchanged,” the North’s chief delegate said at the start of the meeting.
Kim Yun-hyok also noted that the railway project could pave the way for further South-North economic cooperation, and said good results would come by advancing together with “wisdom and strength.”
South Korea’s chief delegate in return expressed hope that “good achievements” would come from Thursday’s talks.
The meeting comes amid a flurry of dialogue between the South and North to implement the agreement reached between their leaders on April 27. It also marked the first inter-Korean talks on railway cooperation since 2008.
The meeting was expected to address issues surrounding connecting and modernizing the Gyeongui and Donghae cross-border railways, each respectively established in the western and eastern parts of the peninsula.
The two Koreas already have established railways in the western region that link the South’s capital of Seoul to the North’s northwestern border city of Sinuiju, but they require modernization for proper operation.
Connecting cross-border railways in the eastern region, of which the Gangneung-Jejin section in the South remains severed, was forecast to be another key topic to be raised. The line could connect South Korea’s southeastern port city of Busan to Europe by cutting through North Korea and even Russia.
Seeking ways to make the railways technologically adaptable for high-speed trains such as KTX or SRT was another topic for discussion.
Linking the cross-border railroad to a Eurasia railway is also part of South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s blueprint for economic prosperity for the peninsula.
Before visiting Russia for a summit with President Vladimir Putin, Moon pointed out last week that connecting the inter-Korean railway and linking it to the Trans-Siberian railway would be beneficial for the two Koreas and Russia.
The plan had gained traction in the weeks leading up to the Moon-Putin summit as South Korea became a full member of the Organization for Cooperation between Railways earlier this month, which grants the rights to run trains on the Trans-Siberian Railway and the Trans-China Railway, key parts of Eurasian Railways.
Admission into the group was successful after three failed attempts since 2015 due to North Korea’s rejections and abstentions from China, according to Seoul. It managed to clinch the new membership, which requires a unanimous vote from the 28 member countries, including North Korea and China.
Despite mounting anticipation, officials and experts say that layers of economic sanctions on North Korea would have to be lifted first in order for railway project to fully pan out.
Before leaving for Tuesday’s talks, Kim Jeong-ryeol told reporters that “there could be limits due to sanctions, but we still have many things to discuss and study that could be pursued after the sanctions are lifted.”
Talks on other areas such as boosting cooperation on roads and forestry are scheduled to follow.
The South and North recently agreed to hold reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War in August, the first event of its kind since October 2015. They also vowed to field join teams for some sports during the upcoming Asian Games.
By Jung Min-kyung and News Reports (email@example.com