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Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
North and South Korea on Friday began a 16-day on-site survey of railways on the east and west coast of the northern part of the peninsula.
A South Korean train carrying a 28-member inspection team crossed the military demarcation line (MDL) at 0909 local time to begin an 18-day tour of North Korea, the Ministry of Unification (MOU) said.
The two Koreas plan to conduct a survey of a 400 kilometer section of the Gyeongui railway line between Kaesong and Sinuiju between November 30 and 5.
Joint inspections of an 800-kilometer long area between Mount Kumgang and the Tumen River on the Donghae line will then take place from December 8 to 17.
Head of Railway Construction Division at the South Korean Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport (MOLIT) Im Jong-il said the ROK team will conduct a visual inspection and examine structures with a portable testing device.
Im — who also participated in an on-site survey of the Gyeongui railway line in 2007 — said the inspection team would be able to “assess the deterioration of the facilities.”
The ROK MOLIT official said the success of the on-site joint survey would depend on how much North Korea was willing to show its South Korean counterparts.
Friday marked the first time a South Korean train has crossed the inter-Korean border in over ten years, following Pyongyang’s unilateral suspension of the operation of freight trains between Munsan and Bongdong stations in 2008.
It also represents the first time since the division of the peninsula that a South Korean train has run along the track between Mount Kumgang and the Tumen River.
The South Korean train, composed of six cars, will travel 2600 kilometers connecting to a North Korean locomotive engine.
Two of the cars will serve as a 300kW generator and 55,000-liter oil tanker.
Deputy spokesperson for the South Korean unification ministry Lee Eugene on Friday said Seoul will use the fuel for the operation of the train and board, lodging, and heating for the ROK inspection team.
“We are carrying some in reserve, of course. But we plan to bring back all of it if there is any left,” Lee told a press briefing on Friday.
South Korean officials will at one point disembark the train between Pyongyang and Rason, while inspectors travel to the area on road.
The ROK deputy spokesperson emphasized that the inspection will proceed “based on mutual trust.”
“With regard to your concerns, there is a locking device in preparation for such circumstances,” Lee said, when asked how the South Korean would ensure that no oil transfers took place while the train was unattended.
The train is equipped with hundreds of water bottles, a fridge, washing machines, a dryer, and an electronic rice cooker, according to the ROK joint press corps.
Unification minister Cho Myoung-gyon on Friday reiterated Seoul’s commitment to hold a groundbreaking ceremony connecting rail and road across the inter-Korean border by the end of the year.
“The government will prepare to hold a groundbreaking ceremony within the year as agreed by the South and North Korean leaders,” Cho told a ceremony before the train’s departure in a statement provided by the joint press corps.
“We will continue our close consultation with concerned countries so that the project connecting railways can be pushed forward steadily with support from the international community,” he said.
The unification ministry on Friday said the two Koreas continue to hold discussions over plans for an on-site inspection of DPRK roads.
Consultations have been underway on the plans, based on the outcome of November’s second round meetings of a joint research team held at the joint inter-Korean liaison office.
Both sides then agreed to have further discussion on the on-site survey on the modernization of roads on the east and west coast.
Seoul and Pyongyang are yet to agree on a concrete date for the inspection of the Donghae line from Kosong to Wonsan, however, having conducted an on-site survey of the route from Kaesong to Pyongyang in August.
Footage via Ministry of Unification
Edited by Oliver Hotham