Railroad Forges Links Between Koreas

DORASAN STATION, South Korea -- North and South Korea began regular cargo train service across their heavily armed border Tuesday for the first time in more than a half-century, in another symbolic step toward reconciliation.

The 12-car train carried construction materials to a North Korean border station and then returned home carrying shoes, underwear and other items produced at a South-North joint industrial complex in the North Korean border city of Kaesong.

The service is one of the tangible results of an October summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun that outlined a series of joint projects. It comes months after the two sides conducted a one-time test run of passenger trains on two reconnected tracks on the western and eastern sides of the peninsula.

The cargo train is to make a 16.5-kilometer round trip every weekday to North Korea.

"I expect a day will come when South Koreans visit North Korean tourist attractions freely by train," Shin Jang-chul, whose parents are from North Korea, told reporters before departing.

South Korea hopes the inter-Korean railway will ultimately be linked through North Korea to the Trans-Siberian Railroad and allow an overland route connecting the peninsula to Europe -- significantly cutting delivery times for freight that now requires sea transport.

"Though we start with a cargo train, it will lead to a passenger train service and will soon be linked to the continental trains," Lee Chul, president of Korea Railroad, told reporters. "The economic benefits are countless."

He said he also hoped that South and North Koreans could travel together via rail to Beijing to cheer at next year's Olympics.