Railway inauguration planned for December 3, passenger transport date not yet decided


Inauguration of the 426-km Laos-China railway and the start of freight transport are scheduled for December 3, but a precise date for the start of passenger services has not been yet decided, a senior government official has said.

Head of the committee in charge of preparations for the inauguration ceremony, Mr Phoxay Khaykhamphithoune, told reporters on Thursday the plan is for Prime Minster Phankham Viphavanh to lead the inaugural train trip, travelling on a train that has been named Lane Xang.

The historic train will depart Vientiane Station in Xay village, Xaythany district for Boten Station in Luang Namtha province near the Chinese border.
Cross border freight transport between Laos and China will begin on the same day shortly after the inaugural train journey.  
However, an exact for the start of passenger travel is yet to be defined. 
“A timetable [for passenger services] has not yet been detailed,” said Mr Phoxay, who is also Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and a member of the committee in charge of overseeing the construction of the railway.
“The company [the Laos-China Railway Company Limited] may reveal [details] at a later date.”

On November 18, the deputy minister led a delegation of officials from relevant ministries on a round trip on the train from Vientiane to Luang Namtha to inspect the progress made in preparation for the start of railway services.
All work is progressing well and everything will be ready in time for the inauguration, Mr Phoxay told reporters shortly after meeting with relevant central and local officials and members of the Laos-China Railway Company Limited in Luang Namtha.
Immigration, customs, plant quarantine and health screening at the station in Luang Namtha are being arranged for operation.
The meeting reported that officials in charge plan to trial documentation procedures for freight transport on November 23. 
When passenger travel begins, it is initially expected that this will be limited to travel within Laos amid Covid-19 pandemic that has resulted in Laos and China imposing travel restrictions.

The Laos-China Railway Company Limited told the meeting that 
the cost of tickets is being reviewed by the Ministry of Public Works and Transport.
Eventually, the company plans to run two freight trips and two passenger services each day.
Use of the railway is expected to cut the cost of transport through Laos by 30-40 percent compared to travel by road.
It takes more than a day or even two days to drive from Vientiane to Luang Namtha by road, as this requires travel through the mountainous terrain in the north and takes much longer than travel by train.
During the journey from Vientiane to Luang Namtha on November 18 the train travelled at an average speed of 160 kilometres per hour with short stops at two stations along the way, taking about three hours in total.
The railway, which connects Vientiane to the Chinese border, slices through northwestern Laos, passing through the provinces of Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Oudomxay and Luang Namtha.
The track passes through 75 tunnels which have a combined length of 197.83km, constituting nearly half of the total route. 
There are 10 passenger stations situated in Vientiane, Phonhong, Vangvieng, Kasy, Luang Prabang, Nga, Xay, Namor, Nateuy and Boten.  There are also 22 stations for the loading and unloading of freight.
Construction of the US$5.986 billion (37.4 billion yuan) railway began in December 2016.