It is some 250-kilometers direct distance between the Democratic People's Republic of Korea's (DPRK) capital Pyongyang and the Republic of Korea's (ROK) capital Seoul.
So how long does it take for a train to cross the divided Korean Peninsula and reach Pyongyang?
Technically, it should take only around one and a half hours to cover this distance on a high-speed train.
So what is the reality? Here's what I observed during my visit to the ROK.
May 17, 2007: A train to the Demilitarized Zone. /VCG Photo
I took a train from Seoul's Yongsan station to Dorasan station, the northern end of ROK's railway line. There's only one train station located within the civilian-restricted area close to Panmunjom at the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), a border barrier that divides the Korean Peninsula. Just a few more steps forward, it is the territory of the DPRK.
Dorasan station is the first station towards the north, but not the last from the south. The information boards in Korean, English, Japanese, and Chinese remind passengers of the dream of reconnecting the Korean Peninsula via Gyeongui line, a railway route that runs across Seoul to Pyongyang. This line was cut during the Korean War.
Indeed, Dorasan station is a symbol of inter-Korean railway link since its operation on April 11, 2002. The new Imjingang Railroad Bridge connects Dorasan and Imjingang Station is just near the old bridge, which was destroyed during the Korean War.
On May 17, 2007, the first train carrying delegations from both sides traveled from Munsan station in the south to Kaesong in the north via the newly built Imjingang Railroad Bridge. The train ran cross-border freight services from Munsan to Kaesong Industrial Zone (KIZ), a special administrative industrial region of the DPRK. It transported raw materials to the north and brought back manufactured goods to the south.
DPRK leader Kim Jong Un (L) and ROK President Moon Jae-in shake hands after Kim crossing the military demarcation line for the inter-Korean summit in Panmunjom, April 27, 2018. /VCG Photo
Unfortunately, the train stopped due to political tensions one year later, although an information board in the waiting room still displays the direction towards Pyongyang Railway Station which is just 205 kilometers away.
Today, the only timetable on the screen is of DMZ train shuttles that run on the 56-kilometers railway line between Seoul and Dorasan. But maybe in the future, this part will serve as the strategic conjunction of the inter-Korean railway system and integrate the ROK and the whole Korean Peninsula into the pan-Eurasia railway network
It is a very ambitious plan.
At the signing ceremony of the Panmunjom Declaration on April 27, ROK President Moon Jae-in handed a USB drive to DPRK leader Kim Jong Un. It contained a proposal for the creation of three economic belts: First, connecting the Gyeongui line, a western coastal railway of the Korean Peninsula to China, second, connecting the Donghae line, an eastern coastal railway to Russia for energy cooperation, and finally, a proposal on promoting tourism along the current border.
A huge amount of investment is required to upgrade DPRK's low-efficiency railway network and therefore if the economic sanctions imposed by the UN, the US, and the ROK are not lifted the dream of reconnecting the Korean Peninsula remains meaningless.
A team from the ROK at a joint railway inspection in the DPRK, July 20, 2018. /VCG Photo
However, the US would not agree on that point. Recently, the UN Command headed by the US refused to allow a ROK train to travel to the DPRK for a joint North-South inspection of railway conditions for the planned inter-Korean railway. It raises questions about US-ROK coordination; also US's concerns over accelerated inter-Korean dialogue may disturb some plans like denuclearization.
More importantly, without a permanent peace agreement to end the Korean War legally and a security framework to guarantee the stabilization of the Korean Peninsula, all efforts to reconnect the Peninsula have no ground.
The ROK President Moon Jae-in is promoting to reconnect inter-Korean railway within a year. DPRK's leader Kim Jong Un has also shown interest in Seoul's high-speed railway technology. It seems a good momentum is emerging.
So how long it will take to have a train shuttle between Dorasan and Kaesong again? How long it will take to have a direct train from Seoul to Pyongyang? And how long it will take to have a high-speed train across the whole Korean Peninsula from Pusan to Sinuiju?
Let's wait and see.
Copy Editor: Liang Chenglu
Editor: Kang Sijun
Author: Shen Shiwei is a fellow at The Charhar Institute and former government relations and business consultant for Chinese enterprises permanently in Africa.
Original Link: https://news.cgtn.com/news/3d3d514d346b6a4d7a457a6333566d54/share_p.html