Laos rethinks rail project
BANGKOK, 9 November 2010 – The Lao government will cancel a joint venture project with Thailand to extend the Nong Khai rail track into the capital city Vientiane, Thai officials confirmed Monday.
Lao government officials reason the Thai-Lao rail extension will duplicate a high speed train project between China and Thailand that passes through Laos.
The high-speed train project will also involve the construction of a second bridge across the Mekong River at Nong Khai to support the Chinese-built trains.
At the close of the meeting with Lao officials, held at the Ministry of Transport, permanent secretary, Supoj Saplom, confirmed the Lao Ministry of Public Works and Transport had scraped the joint venture project, worth US$50 million. It involved extending the current rail track 9 km to a proposed station near to the capital. Today, the line ends at a small station in Laos about 4 km from the Mekong River. According to the Chinese-Thai plans, the high-speed train project will pass relatively close to the capital on the route Nong Khai to Kunming in Yunnan province, China.
Travellers can travel by train from Nong Khai station on the Thai side of the Mekong River across the Friendship Bridge to Tha Na Laeng, which is still 20 km short of Vientiane. The Thai government had agreed to finance an extension that would have ended the line at station in Khamsavat village, Xaysettha district, 4 km from the capital’s That Luang Temple.
Mr Supoj said Lao officials reviewed the project and decided to convert the Tha Na Laeng into a rail cargo terminal for goods trains that would continue to cross the Friendship Bridge. Cargo trains will cut the costs of transporting goods to the landlocked country from its main gateway port of Bangkok. The business is dominated by trucking companies and recent fuel hikes have raised cargo rates to Laos considerably.
As for the new bridge, to support high-speed trains, the two countries have yet to agree on financing and will need to establish a joint committee to work out details. Trains crossing the Friendship Bridge use a track embedded in the road. The bridge is closed to allow the daily train to cross. It is more a symbolic service representing the only train service in the country albeit on a short 4 km track.
During the same discussions, Thai and Lao officials discussed an international bus service from Thailand’s Nakhon Phnom province, where the third Mekong bridge is under construction and due to open next year. The river bridge is the missing link on a road that connects central Khammouane province in Laos with Vietnam’s northern coastal province of Quang Binh.
The high speed train project from Nong Khai to Bangkok will cover 615 km costing around Bt280 billion. From China, the train will depart from Kunming travelling south to Laos crossing the border near Boten and then passing through Vientiane province to the Mekong River and Nong Khai on the Thai side of the border. In Thailand new tracks capable of handling high-speed trans will have to be built adjacent to the current rail track from Nong Khai to Bangkok.
Another planned high speed train route, covering 1,000 km on a Bangkok-Padang Besar route will connect to Malaysia’s rail system and end at one of the world’s largest container ports in Singapore, second only to Shanghai in cargo volume.
The Chinese are also prepared to fund another rail track from Laos heading east to the Vietnamese border.