SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - South Korea has launched a rare railway building project that could restore an inter-Korean railway that has been disconnected for 70 years.
Seoul plans to start the project by renovating the southern side of the Gyongwon Line that once connected the South Korean capital with the eastern North Korean city of Wonsan.
The South plans to spend $130 million for the construction, according to South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs.
The South formally launched the project Wednesday with a groundbreaking ceremony attended by South Korean President Park Geun-hye and senior officials.
“The door to opportunities that North Korea can participate in is always open," Park said in a speech at the ceremony in Cheorwon, a county near the border with the North. "I hope the North will proactively open its doors to the international community and choose the path of change.”
Park said the railway project is part of the Eurasia Initiative project that calls for linking energy and logistics infrastructure across the continent. The plan would connect railway and road networks from Korea to Europe.
The 224-kilometer railway had been a main route for transporting goods between the two cities until 1945, when the Korean Peninsula was divided. The project calls for rebuilding the 9.3-kilometer section in the South near the inter-Korean border by 2017.
South Korean officials say the restoration of the Gyongwon Line could bring significant long-term economic benefits to the two Koreas, noting that the railway is the shortest network connecting Korea and Russia’s Trans-Siberian Railway.
North Korea has not yet said whether it will participate in the rail line reopening.
Some analysts in Seoul say the move is partly aimed at addressing the South’s immediate concern over the North’s provocative actions and rhetoric.
Recently, tensions have heightened on the Korean Peninsula over a possible missile launch by the North. The South has warned that the communist country could launch a long-range missile in October to mark the ruling party's anniversary. Seoul’s warning followed a report that Pyongyang appears to have completed an upgrade of its rocket launch site.
On Thursday, participants in the North Korean nuclear talks will convene at a regional security forum. Representatives from members of the six-party talks, including the United States, China and the two Koreas, will meet at the foreign ministers’ meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur.
The North dispatched its top diplomat to the meeting. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will lead the U.S. delegation to the talks. South Korean media said the participants in the meeting are likely to engage in a heated debate over the North’s missile and nuclear development and human rights records.
Jee Abbey Lee contributed to this report, which was produced in collaboration with the VOA Korean service.