Russia preparing to test-run joint railway with N. Korea: Seoul official

SEOUL, April 30 (Yonhap) -- Russia appears to be preparing for a test operation of its newly renovated railway linked to North Korea, but the economic feasibility of South Korea's joining the logistics project remains to be seen, a Seoul diplomat said Wednesday.

Late last year, Russia reopened the 54-kilometer track linking the Russian eastern border town of Khasan to the North's port of Rajin following a five-year renovation.

"I have been sensing that Russia is preparing to export its coal through the Rajin-Khasan railway in the near future as part of an experiment," Lee Yang-goo, council general in Vladivostok, told reporters. "But it seems that there is no substantial demand for the rail line now."

The project is part of Russia's ambition to set up a rail road linking Asia to the Eurasian region. Last year, South Korea agreed with Russia to extend the track to South Korea.

Seoul officials said that they may be able to finish linking the rail to South Korea's southern port city of Busan and put it into operation as early as next year, but experts have said feasibility of the plan remains to be seen.

Several factors, including economic and technological ones, should be taken into account before South Korean firms can join the logistics project, the council general said. "The economic feasibility should be reviewed foremost."

   Touching on the shock execution of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's once-powerful uncle Jang Song-thaek late last year, Lee said that "in the initial stage (following the execution), I have seen a tense mood among North Korean diplomats, but now it seems to have gone back to normal."

   Currently, about 20,000 North Koreans work in Russia, mostly in the construction sector, and three-fourths of the North Korean laborers are located in the Far East area, the official said. "North Korea relies on Russia mostly for labor export."


South Korea's Council General in Vladivostok Lee Yang-goo hold a group interview with reporters on April 30, 2014. (Yonhap)