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South Korea Travel News

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South and North Koreans to travel by train to Beijing Olympics
North and South Korea are about to create their first “official” joint cheering squad for an international sports event.

Even better, the cheering squad is going to go to the 2008 Beijing Olympics via the Seoul-Sinuiju railway connecting North and South Korea.

The North and South Koreans who have cheered on each others’ teams at winter and summer Olympic events and at the Asian Games and various world championships have merely cheered “together” in a pre-agreed but unofficial capacity, with sports audiences from the two Koreas arriving separately and gathering as events began. This is what makes the decision to send a joint cheering squad by train so significant. Having a joint Korean cheering squad travel across the DMZ by train and enter China will have the effect of sending a message of Korean peace and reconciliation to the whole world.

Making it happen, however, will require that a few issues are resolved.

First there is the issue of the train itself. The Seoul-Sinuiju line had a short test run of 27.3 kilometers, from Munsan in the South to Gaeseong in the North, on May 17. The rest of the route has not been tested and so it remains to be seen whether it can be used for travel. There will also need to be authorization from the Chinese about having the special train enter China.

Since it was agreed at the summit that the track will be repaired, it looks like there will be little problem with the section of the route to Beijing that is on the Korean peninsula. When it comes to China, however, there is a technical problem in that while the inter-Korean train runs on electricity, Chinese trains run on diesel.

Kim Hak-tae of Korail, Korea’s national railroad, however, is not worried.

“When the head of China’s Ministry of Railways visited Korea in November last year, he proposed a 2,048 kilometer route from Busan to Beijing,” said Kim. “So I don’t think there will be any technical obstacles.”

The second problem is about convenience. If the train runs at the speed of 60 kilometers per hour, it will take 12 hours from Busan to Pyongyang and 22 hours from Pyongyang to Beijing, indicating that it will take up to 34 hours from Busan to Beijing. Moreover, it is known that trains cannot travel fast on the Gyeongui Line due to its old railroads. According to Korail, however, as high-quality tourist trains in which passengers can eat and sleep are under development, inconvenience stemming from long journeys will be relieved.

Even if such problems are solved, complicated problems still remain in connection with the details such as the size of a joint cheering squad, the way to form it and the time to launch it. Related authorities in the South and the North should meet to discuss these problems.

Baik Seong-il, an official of the Korea Sports Council, said that the agreement reached at the second inter-Korean summit will help the sports and culture of both sides dramatically develop. He said, “Various levels of working-level groups, including civic organizations, are going to begin an operation to form a joint cheering squad.”

Regarding this, The Hankyoreh Foundation for Reunification and Culture once suggested forming a 2,000-strong - 1,000 from each side - joint cheering squad for the 2008 Beijing Olympics last year.

 
 
 
 
 
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