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Lao-China High-Speed Railway

Lao-China High-Speed Railway A high-speed railway connecting Laos to China is among Beijing’s most aggressive investment forays into Southeast Asia. The U.S. $6 billion project will stretch 409 km (254 miles) from the Lao-China border to the Lao capital, Vientiane. The railway – which will eventually run from Kunming in southwestern China through Laos, Thailand, and Malaysia to Singapore – is a key component of China’s signature global infrastructure plan, the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative. China is now the top investor in Laos, and Chinese companies are pouring billions of dollars into Special Economic Zones, dams, mines, and rubber plantations. Beijing hopes the aid and investment will draw the landlocked Southeast Asian nation, a former French colony with close ties to its communist mentor state Vietnam, into Beijing’s orbit. Laos, an impoverished nation of nearly 7 million people, is looking to boost socioeconomic development through trade, manufacturing, tourism, and sales of electricity produced by damming the Mekong and other big rivers. The Lao-China railway is a signature part of that effort. Construction of the China-Laos railway officially started on December 25, 2016 in northern Lao city Luang Prabang. Addressing the ceremony, Lao Minister of Public Works and Transport Bounchanh Sinthavong said the development of the railway is of great significance in implementing the resolution of the 10th National Congress of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP) and in boosting Lao socio-economy.

The project will help expand and promote Laos-China cooperation in economy, trade, investment and tourism among others, as well as further strengthen economic ties in China-ASEAN free trade area, said the minister. "Once completed, the railway will benefit Lao people of all ethnic groups, facilitate and reduce costs of transportation, stimulate the development of agricultural and industrial sectors, tourism, investment and trade, as well as generate income for Lao people and the country," he added.

Construction of the China-Laos railway, one of the key cooperation projects between the two sides, is underway and the line will go into operation by the end of December 2021. The 414-kilometer railway with over 62.7 percent of bridges and tunnels, will link Boten, the northern Lao town bordering southwest China’s Yunnan Province, and Vientiane, capital of Laos. According to plan, the China-Laos railway will be extended in the south to link Bangkok, capital of Thailand. And it will connect to Chinese railway network.

It is also part of the Trans-Asian Railway, a project designed as an integrated railway network across Europe and Asia. Construction of the project is scheduled for five years with investment of some 40 billion Chinese yuan ($5.8 billion), 70 percent of which comes from Chinese investment and the rest 30 percent from the Lao side.

Before construction of the railway, there was only a 3.5-kilometer-long railway in Laos that connecting Nong Khai, Thailand, to Thanaleng outside Vientiane, the capital of Laos, while the China-Laos railway project will change the situation, said a Laotian official, which will help turn Laos from a “Land-locked country” to a “Land-linked country.” The official added that the railway will greatly improve the country’s transport capacity and promote economic and social development.

Landlocked Laos expects the railway to lower the cost of exports and consumer goods while boosting socioeconomic development in the impoverished nation of nearly 7 million people. Political and financial setbacks delayed the Lao-China stretch of the railway. The original construction plan called for work to begin in 2011 and be completed in 2015, but the plans now call for the railway to be completed in 2021.

Stretches of the track that lie outside safety zones where trains must slow down will not require 50 meters (164 feet) of land on both sides. After a further demarcation and survey, the areas reserved for the railway will require less land, so the figure must be recalculated.

By late 2017,nearly 14 percent of the railway had been completed, and workers were currently boring 119 tunnels with a total length of 23 kilometers (14 miles). The massive project required more than 7,000 local workers. The majority of those recruited were Lao workers who resided near the project, and they were digging tunnels and building a bridge across the Mekong River. Workers had been blasting tunnels in mountains, building bridges and roads, and clearing land for stations and substations along the planned rail line in the three northern provinces of Luang Namtha, Oudomxay, and Luang Prabang since construction on the railway got under way in late December 2016. Thousands had already been recruited to work on the railway in the provinces, including about 2,000 in Luang Prabang. More than 1,000 Lao workers have been recruited in Luang Namtha to build the railway. They are receiving monthly salaries of U.S. $200-U.S. $800.

Under Lao Decree 84 issued in April 2016, those who lose land to development projects must be compensated for lost income, property, crops, and plants. Project owners are required to guarantee that living conditions for those displaced will be as good as, or better than, they were before the project was started.

Huge infrastructure projects, including dams, in Laos undergo at least three surveys so that the government can arrive at a final fair figure for compensating those who have lost their homes and farmland. The ministry is working with the provincial task force committees to finalize compensation schemes for those who are forced to relocate.

More than 4,400 Lao families were relocated to make way for the U.S. $6 billion Lao-Chinese high-speed railway whose construction began in 2016 as part of a longer rail project that will link China to mainland Southeast Asia. Provincial task force committees in areas through which the railway passed estimated that 4,411 families must be relocated along the planned 420-kilometer (261-mile) route through Laos. The task force committees, which are in charge of determining the number of families affected by the project, are still evaluating how many will be forced to relocate. Though more than 3,800 hectares (9,500 acres) of land have been reserved for the mega-project, the total number needed will likely be less than previously estimated.

The planned rail network will have 33 stations, of which 21 would be operational initially, according to the Ministry of Public Works and Transport. There will be 72 tunnels and 170 bridges. Passenger trains will travel at a speed of 160 km per hour, while the speed of rail freight will be 120 km per hour.

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Page last modified: 10-05-2018 15:23:54 ZULU