No country in the world is expanding its high-speed rail (HSR) network as fast as China. It’s impressive how many thousands of kilometers they have built and how they connected the most important cities. China is even competing with countries like Germany, Korea or France for high-speed rail construction projects in countries around the world. Note that HSR was introduced in 2007 in China! And now, China is going to build a HSR line in the most unexpected place: North Korea.
High-Speed Rail in North Korea
Already in December of last year the two countries meet and they prepared this project. In February North Korea and China signed a contract to develop the corridor between Sinuiju and Kaesong. However, just some days ago South Korea got their hands on the contract, which states some important details: Along this corridor China is going to built a highway and high-speed rail. The rail tracks will allow a speed of over 200 km/h. The total length of the project is 376 km and the construction will take six years. The costs are estimated to be around 15 billion US-Dollar. After completion the rights for operation will be owned by China for 30 years.
I’m really not an expert on China and I don’t know their motivation behind this project. For them it is of course part of a bigger project. China announced earlier this year that they are going to build a high-speed rail link up until the border of North Korea. This makes clear sense because there are some large cities in that area, which are important economic centers for the provinces in northeastern China. Usually if we think about a HSR service, it is about fast passenger transport. But will there be so many people traveling between China and North Korea? Will it transport freight?
Here you can see the route of the HSR and the two stages of construction:
Sinuiju is on the border to China in the north and Kaesong, a historically very important place and famous for the Kaseong economic zone, where South Korean companies employ North Korean workers, is close to the DMZ. South Korea has rail and street connections to Kaesong, so I wonder they will be connected. It won’t allow travels by South Koreans to North Korea but what about a transit to China through North Korea?
Importance of that Corridor
Actually, my undergrad paper was more or less about this topic. I analyzed the reconnection of transport infrastructure during the German reunification and I proposed what kind of connections and development a unified Korean peninsula needs. From the German case I identified important lessons like that it is very important to start as early as possible with long-term infrastructure development in order to decrease the gap between the North and the South. This corridor, which will be developed by China, is clearly the most important corridor. It is relatively flat and so the costs for HSR won’t be too high and it connects the most important economic centers with China.