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(LEAD) S. Koreans return home after inspection of N. Korea's western railway

All Headlines 18:46 December 05, 2018

(ATTN: ADDS updated info throughout, photo)

SEOUL/DORASAN, Dec. 5 (Yonhap-Joint Press Corps) -- A group of South Korean officials and railway experts returned home Wednesday after completing a joint inspection of the rail system in western North Korea.

The 28 South Koreans crossed into Dorasan Station, just south of the inter-Korean border, at around 5:11 p.m. following a six-day inspection that covered the rail line from Kaesong near the border with the South to Sinuiju near the border with China.

A train carrying six South Korean cars left for the North on Friday. It was taken over by a North Korean locomotive at Panmun Station, from which point five North Korean cars were connected to it for the joint work.

"The overall railway conditions have not been better or much worse compared with when we visited there before," Lim Jong-il, a transportation ministry official who headed the team, told reporters. He was involved in a 2007 railway inspection in the North.

"The final outcome will require additional or in-depth study going forward. Based on the final analysis, we can determine whether it (the railway) is safe or not," he added.

Lim said that the train ran at a speed of around 20-60 kph during the inspection period, with the speed relatively faster on the railway above Pyongyang.

This photo provided by the Joint Press Corps shows a group of South Korean officials and railway experts speaking to reporters after returning home on Dec. 5, 2018, following a six-day railway inspection in North Korea. (Yonhap)

A separate team of South Koreans is to cross into the North on Saturday to conduct an inspection of the North's eastern Donghae railway, which will last until Dec. 17.

The train used for the inspection of the western Gyeongui line left for the North's eastern town of Wonsan to prepare for the inspection of the rail from Mount Kumgang to the Tumen River on the North's northeastern tip.

They will inspect railways in the North with a combined length of 1,200 km -- 400 km on the western line and 800 km on the eastern line.

The inspection is part of a summit agreement between the leaders of South and North Korea in April to modernize and eventually reconnect rail systems across their border in a bid to foster reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula.

This marked the first inspection of its kind since 2007, when the Koreas assessed a 412-km stretch of railway from Kaesong to Sinuiju. It also marked the first time for a South Korean train to run from Mount Kumgang to the Tumen River since the peninsula was divided following the 1950-53 Korean War.

The inspection has been delayed amid U.S. concerns about possible violations of U.N. sanctions on North Korea.

The project was given the green light recently as the U.S. expressed strong support for the survey, and the U.N. Security Council granted a sanctions exemption.

The two Koreas are seeking to hold a groundbreaking ceremony for road and railway connections over their border before the end of this year, as agreed upon by their leaders.

Experts say that the North's rail system is so decrepit that it requires major repairs or replacement to be linked to South Korea's.

kokobj@yna.co.kr
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