Laos-China railway marks another milestone

$6-billion Belt and Road project to bring boom anew to a Laotian border town, among other benefits

Construction work in Boten, Laos. KINGMALA LAVETH/Shutterstock

The first T-shaped concrete beam for the Laos-China Railway was erected last week in Vientiane, signifying another step toward improving connectivity between the neighbouring countries.

The construction milestone marks the transition of the Belt and Road project from “substructure to superstructure,” according to builder China Railway No.2 Engineering Group (CREC-2), per Xinhua.

The 414-kilometre project, which broke ground in 2016, will likely serve as a boon to key towns alongside the tracks. From Vientiane, high-speed trains terminate at the border town of Boten before connecting to the Yuxi-Mohan Railway in China’s southern Yunnan province.

Boten enjoyed a short spell of economic boom in the 2000s after the Lao government agreed to let a Chinese firm set up a 1,640-hectare special economic zone around town.

The town went on to acquire infamy as a gambling haven, prompting the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing to order the closure of casinos and even cut the power supply to town.

“China’s new focus on Boten is to make it a transportation hub facilitating greater Chinese penetration of Laos,” Paul Chambers, director of research at the Institute of South East Asian Affairs in Thailand, told The New York Times in 2016.

Around 210,133 Chinese tourists made the overland crossing to Laos last year, a number that could swell once the trains become operational. The trains will run at speeds of up to 160 kilometres per hour.

With a development price tag of USD6 billion, the railway was originally set to open in December 2021.