One of the few confirmed, concrete agreements made during recent negotiations included reconnecting the transport infrastructure of the divided peninsula. As part of that agreement, a group of experts from the southern side travelled into the DPRK to inspect the Korean State Railway network and its aged technology with Chairman Kim Jong Un acknowledged was not in an ideal state during a recent summit with President Moon Jae-in.
The experts onboard the train will stay in the DPRK for 18 days and live onboard the train. Much of the infrastructure in the northern rail system were constructed after the Korean war with help from the People’s Republic of China and so if the system is to be integrated with the southern network, the lines will need significant upgrading. Sanctions however, remain an obstacle for the project. The train will carry all it’s own fuel and will have to bring any extra fuel back to the ROK to ensure that UN sanctions are not breached, and so the international community, and especially President Trump will need to be won round to the idea that easing specific sanctions in order to see the success of this project, and other joint-Korean projects, could be a good thing for the peace process. This may be a difficult argument to make to the US administration since talks on the nuclear issue appear to have stalled in recent weeks and months, and so at this very moment, Donald Trump may be wary of rewarding Pyongyang despite the lack of progress in denuclearisation.
If the rail project goes ahead, it would be a significant milestone for inter-Korean relations. Officials in the government of the Republic of Korea have made a variety of vague statements about the symbolism of such a venture and their wish that one day, South Korea will be linked up into the rest of the pan-Asian railway network via Pyongyang. For now, we shall have to wait and see whether any sanctions get lifted by the US or the UN, if not, this project may remain a pipe dream of Moon Jae-in and his government.