THE $US 5.9bn 1024km line between China and Laos was officially opened on December 3, however it will only be used for freight services initially due to international travel restrictions in reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The new line connects Kunming, in China’s Yunnan province, with Vientiane, the capital of Laos. Following a ceremony involving the blessing of the first train by Buddhist monks, Lao prime minister Mr Phankham Viphavanh travelled on the inaugural departure. 

The line will significantly reduce travel times compared with the 20-hour journey by road. The project is part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative and Laos’ strategy to convert itself from a landlocked country to a land-linked hub.

Initially it is expected that the line will carry 300,000 containers a year from Laos, with this increasing to 1.8 million per year. The railway is expected to reduce the cost of transporting freight through Laos by up to 40% compared with road. Freight will be able to reach Europe via China in 10 days, compared with 45 days by sea.

The electrified line comprises a mixture of single and double track, with tracklaying completed in October. There are 11 stations, 167 tunnels and 301 bridges on the line which has a maximum speed of 200km/h although there are several sections of 160km/h operation. Much of the route passes through tropical mountainous regions.

When they commence, passenger services will operate using seven-car Lancang EMUs manufactured by a joint venture of the China - Laos Railway Company and CRRC. The EMUs have capacity for 720 passengers including 56 in first class.

For in-depth data on infrastructure projects in Asia, subscribe to IRJ Pro.