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Eurasia Express trains set for 14,400-km journey

2015/07/12 09:00

SEOUL, July 12 (Yonhap) -- A pair of special trains carrying more than 250 South Koreans will embark on a 20-day journey this week criss-crossing Asia and Europe, a highly symbolic event to highlight South Korea's railway ambitions.

The Park Geun-hye administration has pushed for the "Eurasia Initiative" aimed at linking energy and logistics infrastructure across Asia and Europe.

It hopes to connect rail and road networks from South Korea's southern port city of Busan to west Europe.

The upcoming Eurasia Express expedition is expected to help raise public awareness of South Korea's vision both at home and abroad, officials here said.

Under the slogan, "One Dream, One Eurasia," participants will gather at Seoul Station on Tuesday from various cities in South Korea by train.

They include government officials, lawmakers, artists, academics and businessmen.

Split into two groups, they will fly to Vladivostok and Beijing later in the day, respectively, with a cross-peninsula train tour blocked by the heavily-armed border between the two Koreas.

With nearly 200 people on board, a train will run from Vladivostok to Berlin, Germany, passing through several other Russian cities and Warsaw, Poland.

The other is scheduled to travel from Beijing to Irkutsk, Russia, then the passengers will transfer to the main train for the rest of the tour.

The journey is to end in Berlin on Aug. 2, covering a total of 14,400 kilometers, or 8,948 miles, over six countries including Mongolia and Belarus.

"The Eurasia Express project is not a mere (political or diplomatic) show. It is a program to reflect the strategic importance of a Eurasia railway," Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se said in a written interview with Yonhap News Agency.

His ministry is co-sponsoring the expedition together with Korea Railroad Corp. (Korail).

Yun plans to join the tour on the Warsaw-Berlin leg of the route.

"South Korea hopes for the creation of an economic block for peaceful exchanges and co-prosperity through the Eurasia Initiative," he said. "Taking advantage of its geographical location as the east gate of Eurasia, South Korea needs to play a catalyst role."

   The minister said the train event will serve as an important chance to publicize Seoul's vision and effort for a new Eurasia era.

Indeed, South Korea is seeking to join several related rail projects such as the Trans-Siberian Railway (TSR), Trans-China Railway (TCR) and the Trans-Mongolian Railway (TMGR).

The biggest hurdle is military tension between South and North Korea. No train is allowed to run through the demilitarized zone (DMZ) bisecting the peninsula.

Yun pointed out South Korea has been like an "island" for the past seven decades, a legacy of the Cold War.

A railway between the two Koreas was briefly reconnected in 2007 for cargo services, riding on the mood of reconciliation at that time.

It was severed again, however, in late 2008 after the launch of the conservative Lee Myung-bak government in the South and the North's provocations including a nuclear test and a long-range rocket launch.

Experts agreed the Eurasia Initiative is a pipe dream without improvement in inter-Korean relations.

"Pushing for such an initiative is good itself, but we have to see a bigger picture. In the end, (South Korea) should open the way to run through North Korea," Hong Hyun-ik, senior research fellow at the Sejong Institute said.

Lim Eul-chul, a professor at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University, said the Eurasia Express expedition is meaningful itself as an opportunity to demonstrate South Koreans' aspiration for rapprochement with North Korea and re-connection of the railway with Europe.

It coincides with the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and the liberation of Korea from Japan's 35-year colonial rule.

South Korea also marks the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations with Russia and Mongolia.

lcd@yna.co.kr

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