North and South Korea restored rail links — temporarily — for the first time in over half a century this month. Optimists see the two test runs as symbols of hope for a reunified Peninsula. Skeptics consider them a long-delayed sop to Seoul, and an attempt to keep aid and assistance flowing north. Pyongyang’s record obliges us to favor the latter interpretation.

The last trains crossed the inter-Korean border in 1951. North Korea’s leader Mr. Kim Jong Il and his South Korean counterpart Mr. Kim Dae Jung agreed to reopen rail links during their historic summit in 2000. It took three years, and nearly $795 million (all from the South), to prepare the track on both sides of the demilitarized zone. It took four more years to overcome objections — primarily military — and allow two test runs, one running from the North to the South while another train went the opposite direction.

South Korea Unification Minister Lee Jae Joung said the trip was “reconnecting the severed bloodline of the Korean nation.” It also allowed the South to resume aid to the North; Pyongyang agreed to the test on condition that Seoul provide North Korea with 400,000 tons of rice, and $80 million worth of raw materials for shoes, soap and textiles.

The immediate goal of the rail links is to invigorate inter-Korean trade. Others hope that the rail lines will open a route from the Pacific Ocean to Europe, saving billions of dollars and significant amounts of time. That will require huge investments and far more confidence between North Korea and its neighbors than currently exists. Pyongyang is not likely to allow cargo or people pass through its territory, even if it could impose a hefty transit fee in the process. It will take much more than a test run to get inter-Korean reconciliation back on track.

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