The China-Laos Railway connecting Kunming and Vientiane has officially opened yesterday. This opening coincided with the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Laos. Chairman of The People's Republic of China, Jinping Xi, witnessed the inauguration with Lao's chairman, Thongloun Sisoulith, who also attended online by video.
This newly opened 414-kilometer railway connects the Lao capital Vientiane with the Yunnan border, and consecutively with Kunming. Due to dominantly mountainous terrain 167 bridges and 75 tunnels have been built, covering respectively 62 and 198 kilometers of the total distance. The geological landscape along the line is complex, making it an extremely challenging construction project.
The $6 billion track was built by the Laos-China Railway Company, a joint venture between Chinese and Lao state-owned enterprises. The Lao side is responsible for 30% of its share, with roughly $1.5 billion being provided as loans from the China EXIM Bank, and $250 million being directly injected by the Lao government.
The new railway connection has the potential to strengthen ties between the two countries and boost the economy for a landlocked Laos by facilitating cross-border trade. Rail freight transport will travel at 120 km/h. Post-COVID, we may also an influx of tourism between the two countries. Yunnan has traditionally been one of China's most popular provinces for both international as well as domestic tourism. Passenger trains will travel at a speed of 160 km/h and will in the future be able to complete a trip between Kunming and Vientiane in only 10 hours.
Popular destinations in southern Yunnan, including Xishuangbanna and Pu'er, are now also connected by railway, and trips take 2.5 hours and 3 hours respectively from the Kunming South Railway Station. The Laos section includes stations in the UNESCO heritage city of Luang Prabang and the party town of Vang Vieng.
The China-Laos Railway is part of a bigger plan to ultimately connect Kunming all the way with Singapore, dubbed the Pan-Asia Railway or Kunming–Singapore Railway. The original vision was to realize three different routes starting in Kunming and traveling to respectively Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam to ultimately meet in Bangkok and extend to Malaysia and Singapore. With the western and eastern routes currently on hold, the connection with Vientiane is key in achieving the larger goal and may one day make countries as far as Singapore accessible to China by train.