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Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
Seoul and Pyongyang will on Friday kick off a 16-day joint on-site survey of rail on the east and west coast of the peninsula, the South Korean Ministry of Unification (MOU) announced on Wednesday.
The two Koreas plan to conduct a survey of a 400 kilometer section of rail between Kaesong and Sinuiju between November 30 and December 5, as part of plans to connect and modernize the Gyeongui railway line.
Joint inspections of a 800-kilometer long area between Mount Kumgang and the Tumen River will then be conducted from December 8 to 17.
A South Korean train composed of six cars will be dispatched for the on-site survey and connected to a North Korean locomotive engine, the unification ministry said, adding that two of the cars will serve as a 300 kW generator and 55,000 liter oil tanker.
In a written statement, the MOU said Seoul would be able to see the changes that have taken place since the seven-day on-site survey of the DPRK section of the Gyeongui railway line was carried out in December 2007.
This is the first time a South Korean train has run along the track between Mount Kumgang and the Tumen River, the unification ministry stressed.
The South will also inspect, among other things, North Korean rail facilities, and will proceed with working-talks on the outcome of the survey.
A total of 28 South Korean officials from the unification ministry, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport (MOLIT), the Korea Railroad Corporation (KORAIL), the Korea Rail Network Authority, and others will participate.
Pyongyang is expected to dispatch a similar-sized inspection team, which will include officials from the DPRK’s Ministry of Railways.
A South Korea locomotive will leave Dorasan Station at 0830 local time, bringing the six cars to Panmunjom before returning to Seoul.
Inspection trains will then run from Kaesong to Sinuiju, return to Pyongyang, then travel to Wonsan using the railroad line connecting the capital to Rason.
For the joint survey of Donghae line, the trains will then move to Anbyon County in Gangwon Province, before driving back up in the east coast to the Sino-DPRK border.
After the completion of the investigation, the North and South Korean trains — which will have traveled 2600 kilometers for 18 days — will return to Seoul, stopping at Wonsan, Pyongyang, and Kaesong.
The on-site survey was previously delayed, largely due to discord with the U.S. and issues around international sanctions compliance.
“The inspection is launched based on support from the U.S. through the U.S.-ROK working group and an exemption of sanctions on North Korea from the UN,” the MOU said in its written statement.
The two Koreas originally agreed to take “practical steps towards the connection and modernization” of railways and roads on the peninsula in April’s Panmunjom Declaration.
Though Seoul and Pyongyang previously agreed to start a joint on-site survey of the Donghae and Gyeongui line, the schedule has since been delayed.
August saw the United Nations Command (UNC) disallow South Korean trains from crossing the military demarcation line (MDL) to conduct a joint on-site survey of sections of track to be used in future rail cooperation.
Both sides then brought that deadline forward by a month, agreeing to conduct on-site surveys of the Gyeongui and Donghae railway lines, respectively, in late October and early November.
September’s Pyongyang Joint Declaration saw the two Koreas agree to hold a groundbreaking ceremony for the rail and road connections by the end of the year.
Seoul on Wednesday insisted that goal was still feasible.
“The government will discuss the issue of holding the groundbreaking ceremony within the year — as agreed between the two Koreas — with Pyongyang,” the South Korean unification ministry said in Wednesday’s statement, promising to complete the survey “efficiently.”
“We will proceed with the basic planning, further inspection, and design, among other things, after the on-site joint survey while pushing forward construction works in accordance with progress of denuclearization.”
Edited by Oliver Hotham