A railway linking Laos and Thailand across the Mekong River officially opened yesterday after two years of construction.
The opening of the 3.5 km railway, which runs from the Vientiane-Nong Khai Friendship Bridge to Vientiane ’s Thanalaeng train station, marks the start of a new era of connectivity between the two Mekong nations.
Vice President Bounnhang Vorachit and Her Royal Highness Mahachakri Sirindhorn of Thailand co-presided over the event, which took place in Dongphosy village, Hatxaifong district, some 25 km from downtown Vientiane .
Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, Lao Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Thongloun Sisoulith, and a number of high ranking officials from the two countries were in attendance. Foreign diplomats also gathered to witness the historic event.
The Thai princess is in Laos for a two-day official visit and yesterday visited a number of places including Thailand ’s TOA Paint Factory and the Lao National Library in Vientiane. The princess also plans to attend a ground-breaking ceremony for the Thakhek-Nakhon Pranom Bridge today in Khammuan province.
Construction of the railway began in 2006, funded by the government of Thailand. The project cost about 55 billion kip (197 million baht), of which 70 percent was a loan and the remainder a gift from the Thai government.
Speaking at the opening ceremony, Minister of Public Works and Transport Sommath Pholsena said the railway was significant because it provided an easier link with Thailand, and potentially other regional railways in the years to come.
“Although this railway is very short, only 3.5km, it is historically very meaningful for Laos because of its international connection,” he said.
Mr Sommath said the railway would play an important part in supporting the ongoing development of land transport in Vientiane, which will gradually help Laos to become a transit country, facilitating the movement of goods and people through the sub-region.
“The railway is a response to the Lao government’s policy on industrialisation and modernisation. It will be a catalyst to attract potential investors and finally support the socio-economic development of Laos and Thailand and the sub-region,” he said.
He said the Lao-Thai railway fulfilled the ambitions of the Lao, Thai and Australian governments to create greater connectivity between the two Mekong nations.
The Australian government funded the construction of the Vientiane-Nong Khai Friendship Bridge, which opened in 1994.
A senior official from the Lao Railway Authority, Mr Somsana Ratsaphong, said the authority was negotiating with Thai counterparts to open a public train service between Laos and Thailand in the near future, but was unable to confirm when this would start.
He said Laos was ready to start the public train service and the government had appointed immigration officials to work at Thanalaeng station. He declined to say whether Thailand was ready to operate a cross-border public train service.
By Ekaphone Phouthonesy
Published on March 6, 2009