Korail, the state-run railway operator, said Thursday that it has been asked by its Russian counterpart to take part in a railway construction project linking the Russian border town of Khasan with the North Korean port city of Rajin.
The country's state-run enterprise said its CEO Chung Chang-young went to Paris early this week to attend a general meeting of the International Union of Railways. On Tuesday, Chung held a meeting with Vladimir Yakunin, CEO of Russian Railways, to discuss a range of pending issues between the two countries.
During the talks, Yakunin asked for Korail's participation in upgrading the 54-kilometer railway stretch from Rajin to Khasan, it said.
''Yakunin said the project will significantly upgrade transportation networks between Russia and North Korea, which will serve as a stepping stone for a logistics renaissance in Northeast Asia,'' Korail said. ''The CEO said Russia will help to improve inter-Korean relations by playing a mediator role through the railroad scheme.''
Russia also seeks to modernize Rajin's aged port facilities to use it as a base for trade with Japan and South Korea.
In response, Chung said he will decide whether to participate in the project after discussing the matter with government officials and executives of related private firms.
However, a Korail spokesman offered a pessimistic outlook for the firm's participation, saying now is not the right time to take up such an issue.
''All we can say is that we are asked by Russia to join the project. Inter-Korean relations are at rock-bottom. The Dec. 19 presidential election is less than a week away. Under such circumstances, it is not appropriate for us to make further comments,'' the spokesman said.
Over the years Moscow has been floating the idea of connecting its Trans-Siberian Railway with South Korea via North Korea, a proposal that would provide cheaper shipping routes for South Korean companies selling goods to Europe.
In 2008, Korail was interested in acquiring a stake in the scheme along with several private firms. But this and other cross-border cooperation projects were scrapped due to the worsening South-North relations under the Lee Myung-bak Administration.