April 12, 2013
There are no obstacles to the planned building of the Laos-China high speed railway, although the two governments are in the process of negotiations on the project, Minister of Public Works and Transport Sommad Pholsena said yesterday.
“The two governments are negotiating so that construction can go ahead,” he told local media while attending the ongoing open government meeting in Vientiane.
The minister was unable to say when exactly construction would begin on the US$7 billion railway, which will link Vientiane to the Lao-Chinese border over a distance of 421km.
But he said construction would begin shortly after all parties had reached an agreement and all preparations were complete.
“We should have confidence in the development of a railway network in Laos,” he said. “We have to be patient – rail projects cost a huge amount of money.”
Previously, it was reported that Laos and China planned to jointly undertake the mega railway project, with China to put up 70 percent of the investment cost. A groundbreaking ceremony was planned for 2011 with a completion date of 2015, but the ceremony did not take place.
The project was delayed after the Chinese construction company reportedly pulled out because they felt it would not be sufficiently profitable.
However, the Lao government is determined to bring the project to fruition, and hopes to obtain financing through a loan from China.
In this regard, the National Assembly (NA) approved a “go-ahead bill” at an extraordinary session held last October, to enable the government to realise the project. When asked about financing and whether Laos would still be the sole investor in the project using a loan from Beijing, as reported at the NA’s extraordinary session, Mr Sommad said ‘The details have not been agreed upon.”
But he said that whatever could be agreed upon by both sides for their mutual benefit would be possible.
Although the project requires a huge investment, Mr Sommad was optimistic that it would be realised. The government has a clear policy to transform Laos from being landlocked to a land link and a transport hub for surrounding countries.
The planned railway would form part of the Asean-China rail link, which begins in Yunnan province, China, and runs southwards to Singapore through Laos and Thailand.
In the original plan, passenger trains running at speeds of up to 200 kph were planned but the Lao government has decided to reduce this to 160kph for safety reasons, partly due to the hilly terrain. Goods trains meanwhile will travel at a maximum speed of 120kph, according to a report presented at the NA’s extraordinary session.
Passenger trains might be able to reach a speed of 200kph between Vientiane and Vangvieng where the land is relatively flat, but more studies are needed, the report said.
The project will also include 31 stations, but the government plans to open 20 stations initially and the rest later on.
There will be seven major stations along the route, of which two will be in Vientiane. From there, the railway will run north to China, stopping in Phonhong and Vangvieng districts in Vientiane province, before continuing on to Luang Prabang, Oudomxay, Luang Namtha and the Chinese border.