China reaffirmed that Laos's high-speed train project was still on track, but it needed more time to conduct feasibility studies on various aspects to make sure it would be economically viable, Lao Deputy Prime Minister Somsavat Lengsavad said.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told his Lao counterpart Thongsing Thammavong during a bilateral meeting in China’s Nanning last week on the sidelines of the Asean-China Expo that he had instructed officials to speed up their study of the Laos train project, he said.
“The political will of the two leaders is clear and it has never changed. I’m confident that this project will be materialised as planned,” Somsavat said in an interview.
Laos plans to build the $7-billion (Bt224 billion) train project to link Vientiane and China’s Yunnan province as well as later connect to Thailand and other countries of Asean.
The project had posed difficulties because of the huge investment and low returns, Somsavat said. Chinese experts are studying the possibilities of the project.
Meanwhile, the Lao transportation authority is preparing to set up a legal entity, possibly a company, to deal with China for the financial arrangement and form of investment, he said, noting that it was possible Laos would need to borrow from China for the construction.
“We need a lot of assistance from China as we don’t have any experience in rail operations,” he said. Laos has no railway system. The train operation currently between Vientiane and Thailand’s Nong Khai is an extension of the Thai system.
Originally, Laos wanted a high-speed train system similar to that being operated in China to link with the Thai high-speed train system from Nong Khai to Bangkok.
However, Somsavat said Laos is mulling switching from a high-speed system to semi-high speed due to the high investment, Laos’s current economic situation and the geographic terrain.
A high-speed train would involve high construction cost and require large amounts of energy over mountainous terrain, he said. One possible way is to have slower speeds of about 160 kilometres per hour for passenger trains and 120 kilometres per hour for cargo trains, he said.