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By Koh Byung-joon
SEOUL, April 27 (Yonhap) -- South Korea held a ceremony renewing its commitment to reconnect inter-Korean railways as it marked the second anniversary Monday of the first summit between President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Relinking two sets of cross-border roads and railways was one of the key agreements reached during the 2018 meeting at the border village of Panmunjom that set off a wave of detente, including the first-ever summit between the United States and North Korea.
But the peace mood has since come to a halt as the second summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and the North's Kim ended without an agreement. The no-deal meeting has also led to an impasse in relations between the South and the North.
Monday's ceremony, which took place at South Korea's northernmost train station of Jejin on the east coast, was aimed at renewing Seoul's commitment to push for railway reconnection and other agreed-upon inter-Korean exchanges.
The government plans to invest 2.85 trillion won (US$2.3 billion) in constructing the single-track 110.9-kilometer-long line from the east coastal city of Gangneung to the border town of Jejin. The line has been left unconnected since 1967.
"This project will not only contribute to balanced national development but preparation for inter-Korean railway cooperation down the road as well," Transportation Minister Kim Hyun-mee told a ceremony held in the eastern border town of Goseong to announce the official start of the project.
"We plan to complete our master plan by year's end and carry out things in a speedy manner with an aim to start construction late next year," she added.
Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul also called the project the "Korean Peninsula New Deal," which would inject stimulus into the local economy, saying it would open the "era of the East Sea" by helping build a "pan-East Sea economic block."
Last week, the government designated the construction of the Gangneung-Jejin line as an inter-Korean cooperative project and exempted it from a preliminary feasibility study in a bid to speed up its construction.
The move comes as South Korea has been unsuccessfully trying to resume cross-border cooperation in railway and road connection that has been on hold.
President Moon and North Korean leader Kim agreed in a summit on April 27, 2018, to modernize and reconnect inter-Korean railways and roads running through the western and eastern regions as part of reconciliation and balanced development on the Korean Peninsula.
The two Koreas held a groundbreaking ceremony for the project in the border town of Kaesong in December of the same year, but actual construction has not yet started as global sanctions banning such economic cooperation projects with the North remain firmly in place amid a deadlock in denuclearization talks between Pyongyang and Washington.
The construction of the Gangneung-Jejin line and its possible connection to a railway in the North is also expected to bolster the tourist and logistical industries in the country's eastern region, experts said.
A report showed that the construction will have an induced production effect worth 4.74 trillion won and added value estimated at 1.92 trillion won, while helping generate about 40,000 jobs in the process.
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