China-Laos railway to open on time: Lao PM

VIENTIANE, Oct. 6 (Xinhua) — Lao Prime Minister Phankham Viphavanh said on Wednesday that the China-Laos Railway will open on Dec. 2 this year as scheduled.

Dec. 2 this year will mark the 46th anniversary of establishment of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic.

The prime minister made the confirmation amid growing concerns that the escalating COVID-19 outbreak might affect the planned start of railway services. Currently, many provinces and Vientiane are under lockdown that restricts people’s movements.

Local online newspaper Vientiane Times quoted Phankham as saying that the government will go ahead with the opening as planned. He told reporters both online and off-line that “(I) confirm that the railway will surely open on Dec. 2.”

The Lao government is drawing up plans for the opening and operation of the railway under conditions that comply with COVID control measures to ensure the safety of everyone concerned.

The plans will address “how we can open services for tourism,” he said, adding that the authorities are working out measures to be introduced at the Laos-China border for the inspection of goods and passengers prior to entry and exit.

Initially, railway operations will focus on freight transport. Services for tourists will be offered later depending on the circumstances in which traveler safety can be assured with respect to COVID-19 epidemic.

When it is able to operate normally, the Lao prime minister said, the railway will greatly benefit Laos given its significant role in bolstering tourism and the transport of goods.

It is expected that the 422.4-km railway will cut the cost of transport through Laos by 30-40 percent compared to travel by road, thus giving a boost to trade and investment, Vientiane Times reported.

The railway would be a significant force in enabling Laos to be part of a new global supply chain, according to Vientiane Logistics Park Co., Ltd., the developer of the Thanaleng Dry Port and Vientiane Logistics Park.

Chanthone Sitthixay, chairman of Vientiane Logistics Park Co., Ltd., said the transport of goods from Southeast Asia to Europe via the railway would take just over 10 days, much shorter than using the sea route which takes about 45 days, and he predicted that countries in the region would choose to ship their containers via the railway.

Initially, at least 300,000 containers from Laos, mainly from the Thanaleng Dry Port, are expected to be shipped via the China-Laos Railway to Europe through China each year. Later, shipments are estimated to rise further to between 1.2 and 1.8 million containers a year, according to Chanthone.

The China-Laos Railway is a strategic docking project between the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative and Laos’ strategy to convert itself from a landlocked country to a land-linked hub.

The electrified passenger and cargo railway is built with the full application of Chinese management and technical standards.

The project started in December 2016 and is scheduled to be completed and opened to traffic in December 2021. Enditem
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