Laos: Expectations high for new railway

Vientiane Times via Asia News Network
A bird’s-eye view of Luang Namtha’s provincial capital in northern Laos

Luang Namtha Province is politically stable, socially safe, secure, and orderly, and its economy continues to grow steadily. The province is located in the northwest of Laos and has a 160-kilometer border with China, and a 159-kilometer border with Myanmar to the west.

The province is home to people of numerous ethnic groups, who enjoy a long tradition of unity and diligence. There are two major areas of flatland, one of which is called the Meuang Sing plain and the other is the Luang Namtha plain. There are also two smaller plains that have rich soil and a favorable climate. All of this provides good conditions for agriculture, including the cultivation of rice and cash crops as well as livestock farming.

Luang Namtha is a transit province of the Mekong Sub-region and the North-South Economic Corridor (China-Kingdom of Thailand), and East-West (Vietnam-Myanmar). It is also on the frontline of ASEAN-China cooperation and a gateway for imports and exports to China.

Today it is situated on the Laos-China Railway and has a domestic airport and four border crossings. It is also home to the Boten Beautiful Land Specific Economic Zone.

As Laos and China count down to Dec. 2 — the planned date of the inauguration of the railway — the government has ordered full-scale preparations for this momentous event.

At the government cabinet’s most recent meeting in October, Prime Minister Phankham Viphavanh also instructed the relevant authorities to accelerate action to fulfil plans to attract investment in facilities alongside the railway.

The streamlined “China-standard” bullet train, or Electric Multiple Unit (EMU) train, for use on the railway arrived at the newly built China-Laos Railway Vientiane Station last month.

With its arrival, Laos enters a new era of railway transport and the Lao people will soon enjoy a vastly improved method of travel. The passenger train has a top operating speed of 160 kph. It has nine carriages, including a locomotive, a dining car, one first-class and six second-class coaches, and has 720 seats altogether.

The journey time from Vientiane to the Chinese border will be shortened from two days by road to three hours by train, and the onward journey to Kunming can be just overnight, which means a leapfrog development in connectivity between China and Laos.

Construction of the railway began in December 2016. It runs between Vientiane and the Boten-Mohan border crossing between Laos and China, slicing through the provinces of Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Oudomxay and Luang Namtha.

When the train becomes operational in Luang Namtha, it will open up untold opportunities for the transport of goods and tourism within the province.

Provincial leaders also plan to strengthen cooperation with strategic allies, neighboring countries and international organizations. In principle, all parties will benefit.

Following the opening of the Vientiane-Vangvieng Expressway last year, the Boten-Huayxai Expressway will be built at Natuey Point connecting with the Chinese border and Luang Namtha provincial capital. When the whole of the China-Laos expressway is built, the road will run between Vientiane and the town of Boten in Luang Namtha province at the Chinese border, with an approximate length of 440 kilometers.

This will enable the development of tourism and encourage Chinese and ASEAN tourists and people from other countries to explore Luang Namtha’s nature-based attractions. Luang Namtha is Laos’ best known trekking destination.