About the Author
View more articles by Dagyum Ji
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
Seoul is seeking partners to conduct preliminary research into construction standards and logistics for use in inter-Korean rail connection and renovation, the ROK government-run Korea Rail Network Authority said in a proposal late last week.
The two Koreas agreed to take steps towards the connecting and modernizing of railways and roads on the peninsula in April’s Panmunjom Declaration.
The Korea Rail Network Authority — charged with the construction and maintenance of railway and managing facilities as an affiliate of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport (MOLIT) — detailed the research project in a document seeking potential outsourcing partners.
A total of KRW$480 million (USD$427,616) has been allocated to the project, with research partners to be chosen in December.
The document, seen by NK News, asks researchers to examine how, among other things, low temperatures during North Korea’s winter season will impact construction work.
The research project, set to last 18 months, also aims to develop a plan to adapt current standards for roadbed construction taking into account the unique challenges the DPRK might present.
The Korea Rail Network Authority has stressed the importance of the research in light of pending inter-Korean economic cooperation, also raising the possibility of completing the construction of a Trans-Korea Railway (TKR) and connecting it to transcontinental railroads such as the Trans-China Railway (TCR) and the Trans-Siberian Railway (TSR).
It also asks researchers to analyze domestic and international cases in which construction has been damaged by low temperatures in the winter, examining standards for roadbed construction in foreign countries including China, Japan, and Russia.
The research project will also investigate best practice for railway drainage systems to prevent freeze damage and propose new construction standards for bridges which take into account severe changes in temperature.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in has said he hopes to move towards a multilateral peace and security regime through a East Asian Railroad Community including the U.S., the two Koreas, China, Japan, Mongolia, and Russia.
As a first step, Seoul and Pyongyang at high-level talks in October agreed to hold a groundbreaking ceremony connecting and modernizing inter-Korean road and rail between November and early December.
To this end, the two agreed to conduct a joint on-site survey of the Gyeongui and Donghae railway lines between late October and early November.
That plan has been postponed, however, with South Korean unification minister Cho Myoung-gyon last week admitting to “slight differences” between Washington and Seoul over the issue.
The Moon administration in September said Seoul plans to fund costs for repairing the North’s rail and road in the form of loans, as, it says, the construction of economic infrastructure requires large-scale funding.
Seoul has allotted KRW295.1 billion (USD$263 million) to the connection and modernization of rail and road in next year’s budget.
A total of KRW108.7 billion (USD$96.8 million) will be provided for rail and road cooperation in the form of a loan to North Korea, pending the National Assembly’s approval, while the rest will be offered free of charge.
Such a major transfer of capital to North Korea by South Korea next year would require Seoul to seek an exemption from international sanctions against the DPRK or risk significant penalties.
Meanwhile, the South Korean Ministry of Unification (MOU) on Monday announced plans to hold a sectoral meeting on public health and medical care between Seoul and Pyongyang on Wednesday at the joint liaison office in Kaesong.
Though the two Koreas agreed to hold the meeting in late October, the schedule has since been postponed.
“The government expects that the meeting will serve as the place to exchange a wide range of opinions on mutual interest in the establishment of the joint control system of contagious diseases and the cooperation in the field of public health and medical care between the two Koreas,” the MOU said in a written statement.
Director of the State Sanitary Inspection Board under the DPRK Ministry of Public Health Pak Myong Su and South Korean Vice Minister of Health and Welfare Kwon Deok-cheol, who visited Pyongyang in October, will lead three-member delegations to the talks.
Edited by Oliver Hotham