Date: 1st February 2023
The ambitious project to realise a China-Laos-Thailand Railway was one of the main discussion points during the recently held visit of the Thai Railway and Customs delegation to Laos. The first phase of the project is expected to be completed and open to traffic by 2026, said the Ministry of Transport of Thailand.
According to the Laotian Times, representatives of the Thai Railway Transport Department (DRT) and the two countries are currently discussing matters related to the China-Laos-Thailand Railway. Completion of the railway may reduce the cost of freight transportation among the three countries by 30 to 50 per cent in the next three to five years.
Why a new railway line
If you look at the figures, the potential of the cross-border railway line is obvious. Thai officials said that in 2022, Thailand’s cross-border trade increased by 39,9 per cent year-on-year. The data of the Thai-Laos border checkpoint in Nong Khai Province in 2022 shows that the import and export trade value of the checkpoint in 2022 is about 2,8 billion euros, continuing to show an upward trend, which is also closely related to the opening of the China-Laos Railway.
According to Xinhua News Agency, in 2022, the China-Laos Railway “sent a total of more than 1,9 million tons of cross-border goods. The cross-border freight trains of the China-Laos Railway have increased from an average of two trains per day at the beginning of its opening to an average of 12 trains per day at present.”
Thailand, which is across the river from Laos, can naturally obtain greater trade volume from the construction of the China-Laos Railway, but the construction of infrastructure has a thorny problem. Different gauges and construction progress all affect China, Laos, and Thailand to varying degrees.
Gauge is different
The China-Laos railway adopts the international standard gauge of 1435mm, while the Thai railway adopts the meter gauge of 1000mm. A unified gauge is too ambitious on the practical level, therefore changing the gauge has become a practical solution to solve the problem. The transshipment station completed between Laos and Thailand last year also took its first steps in China-Thailand railway intercommunication.
The railway reloading yard in Vientiane is funded and built by China-Laos Railway Co., Ltd. It connects to the freight yard of Vientiane South Station of the China-Laos Railway in the north, and to the Laos metre-gauge railway in the south. There is one standard-gauge reloading line and two metre-gauge reloading lines in the station, which can reload 25 Thai-metre-gauge railway wagons at the same time, with an annual reloading operation capacity of about 800,000 tons.
The Laotian metre-gauge railway is located on its border with Thailand, connecting Nong Khai, in Thailand, and Nathalang in the south of Vientiane, in Laos, with a total length of 3,5 kilometres, including the Thai-Laos Friendship Bridge.
Construction schedule for the China-Thailand Railway
As the construction of the China-Laos Railway came to an end in 2021, Thailand has indicated that it will increase the number of freight trains with Laos and promote the construction of the China-Thailand Railway. According to China Daily, the second phase will cover 356 kilometres from Nakhon Ratchasima to Nong Khai, with an investment of about 8,4 billion euros. The Bangkok-Nong Khai railway line is expected to be completed in 2028.
The construction plan of the China-Thailand Railway is to connect Kunming, Yunnan, and Bangkok on the basis of the China-Laos Railway. However, as the Chinese Lunar New Year turns over and enters the Year of the Rabbit, the story of the China-Thailand Railway is not yet over. According to the person in charge of the China-Thailand Railway, there are currently 14 sections of the China-Thailand Railway, connecting Bangkok and Nakhon Ratchasima. One section has been completed, three are under tender, and the remaining ten sections are already under construction.