Korean border railway station represents staging post on journey to peace

18-Sep-2018 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:00 AM Print This Post

“We want to be back on track.”

A sign on the platform at the dead-end railway station, near the southern side of the heavily fortified border between the two Koreas, spoke on behalf of many ahead of the inter-Korean summit on Tuesday.

Baengmagoji station, located about 100km northeast of Seoul, is South Korea’s northernmost station on the Gyeongwon line. It was originally an intermediate station after the 1914 completion of the line a 223km railway connecting the South’s capital to the east-coast port city of Wonsan in North Korea but was left as a de facto terminus in 1945, when the two Koreas were first divided.

A black sign indicating the end of the track and a yellow concrete barricade mark the dead end preventing passengers travelling further north. The black military trench nearby serves as a reminder that a formal end of hostilities has yet to be secured for the Korean peninsula.

But the barricade is at odds with the wishes to be reunited that are in evidence around it. South Koreans have left notes and written poems at the scene, expressing their desperate hope for reunification.

“Lord, we pray for reunification of North and South Korea … and breaking of this border,” reads a message written on a green butterfly-shaped note attached to the platform sign.

A blue postbox The Northern Sky Post Box placed outside the waiting area, which invites letters from South Koreans wishing for reunification, provides another reminder of hopes of reconciliation.

“The train once again screams out that it wants to be back on track. Yet there is nothing she can do except for stand still at the tip of the rail of sorrow, and watch the birds who can fly to the Northern sky,” reads a verse attached to the postbox, written by poet Oh Geun-seong.

South Korean president Moon Jae-in is scheduled to visit the North Korean capital to meet the North’s leader Kim Jong-un, at a time when the North and the United States are gridlocked on denuclearisation.

The rail link is at the core of Moon’s ambition to connect the two Korean economies, a plan to open up his reclusive neighbour to the world. At Panmunjom on April 27, Moon handed a USB drive containing a blueprint for economic integration to Kim.

The proposal, “New Economic Map of the Korean Peninsula”, includes the creation of three economic belts: one connecting the western coastal railway of the Korean peninsula to China, one connecting its eastern coastal railway to Russia for energy cooperation, and one on the current border to promote tourism.

The Gyeongwon line named as a fusion of Seoul’s old name Gyeongseong and its North Korean end point Wonsan runs through the centre of this plan, because it connects the western and eastern lines via Seoul.

South Korea launched the line’s restoration in 2015, but work was suspended the following year because of worsening relations between the two Koreas.

However, the project has resumed in South Korea as the railway has become a symbol of inter-Korean reconciliation. Improvements to the railroad bridge between Yeoncheon and Baengmagoji have been under construction since early July, with the ultimate aim of reconnecting the line with the North.

If the Gyeongwon line’s restoration is completed, it will enable transportation of goods from Gangwon province in eastern South Korea to Japan via Wonsan, and restore its function as a logistics route, which it was before the division of the Koreas.

Yet as moves are made towards reconciliation, Park Ok-hee, a tour guide at the station, said the area still carries many scars from the past.

“Before the Korean war, this area was occupied by the North Koreans, and many historic sites show the area was a heavy battleground,” Kim said.



Category: Korea

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