South Korea is moving forward with a new railway project that will connect a border town that faces North Korea. File Photo by Keizo Mori/UPI | License Photo
April 23 (UPI) -- South Korea is pursuing an inter-Korea railroad project as the novel coronavirus pandemic subsides in the country.
A meeting of the Inter-Korea Exchange and Cooperation Promotion Council hosted by Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul officially recognized a railway project on the eastern coast as an inter-Korea exchange cooperation project, local news service News 1 and Yonhap reported Thursday.
Seoul's decision to pursue the 69-mile-long railway was made without North Korean input. Pyongyang has rejected working-level talks with the South since 2019, but the administration of President Moon Jae-in has not stopped prioritizing projects that could build closer links between the two Koreas.
The railway that was approved for construction would connect the city of Gangneung on South Korea's eastern coast to the border town of Jejin. In the event of inter-Korea progress, the line would in turn connect to the southern city of Busan with the Donghae Bukbu Line, an abandoned inter-Korea railway, according to News 1. Work on the Gangneung-Jejin line would begin in two to three years, the report says.
The 69-mile line would be the missing link between South Korean and North Korean railways that ultimately connects to railroads in Russia and China, including the Trans-Siberia Railway and the Trans-China Railway.
Railroads have been included in inter-Korea agreements signed since 2000. Seoul and Pyongyang conducted joint surveys of existing train tracks in November and December of 2018 as Seoul received U.N. sanctions exemptions, but activities were suspended as North Korea refused to return to working-level dialogue.
On Thursday, South Korea's unification ministry said the project is part of the government's Korean Peninsula New Deal. The president's coronavirus stimulus package has also been described as a "New Deal" that reprioritizes job creation and fiscal spending in the wake of the global recession.
Seoul's unification minister said the railway project on the eastern coast would contribute to balanced regional development in a country where most economic activity occurs in Seoul, the capital.
On Wednesday, Moon said Seoul is planning steps to generate more than 500,000 jobs amid concerns of mass layoffs.