September 15, 2011 / 3:53 PM / 9 years ago

Russia to open railway track to North Korea

* Russia to send train along repaired railway to N Korea

* Moscow hopes to use the railway to increase trade

* Says railway line to reach full capacity in 2013

By Gleb Stolyarov

MOSCOW, Sept 15 (Reuters) - Russia will send its first train along a newly repaired railway line to North Korea next month, Moscow’s railway monopoly said on Thursday, opening up a rare trade route with the secretive nation.

The link with Russia offers impoverished North Korea at least the prospect of increasing trade with its biggest neighbours after years of international sanctions.

Russian Railways has been renovating the 54km (34 mile) rail line from Russia’s eastern border town of Khasan to the North Korean port of Rajin as part of an agreement reached during North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s 2001 visit to Russia.

“The first demonstration train will go along the line in October,” a spokesman for Russian Railways said.

Russian Railways has also been building a container terminal in Rajin, which is one of the main centres of North Korea’s Rason Special Economic Zone.

It said the railway and container terminal, built by a joint venture called Rasonkontrans, would be used to export Russian coal and to import goods from South Korea and other Asian countries.

The railway and container terminal will work at 35 percent capacity, or about 70,000 20-foot equivalent units (TEU), in 2011, rising to 140,000 TEU in 2012 and a full capacity of 200,000 TEU in 2013, Russian Railways said.

“There is the opportunity to increase the capacity of the container terminal and the railway,” a spokesman said.

Isolated Pyongyang, which in 2009 walked out of talks aimed at providing it with economic and energy aid as an incentive to give up its atomic weapons programme, has sought to cultivate better ties with China and Russia in recent months.

China is the closest thing North Korea has to a big-power ally, though Moscow was Pyongyang’s ally for decades until the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union sapped Russia’s global clout.

During a visit to Russia last month, Kim promised to consider suspending nuclear arms tests and production if international talks on Pyongyang’s atomic programme resume.

Russia and China have called for a resumption of six-nation talks though the United States, Japan and South Korea say Pyongyang must first show it is serious about getting rid of its nuclear capabilities.

Since the August meeting with President Medvedev, Kim’s first public visit to Russia since 2002, there have been signs of an improvement in relations with the Kremlin, including talks on gas supplies and even reports of plans for a joint naval exercise. (Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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