Govts sign Thai-Lao rail deal
New route to link region with China
Thailand, China, and Laos have signed a Memorandum of Cooperation (MoC) on the development of a rail line between Nong Khai and Vientiane in Laos, which forms part of China's much-touted Belt and Road Initiative.
The signing ceremony, which took place in the Chinese capital Beijing, was attended by Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith, Laos' Minister of Public Works and Transport, Bounchanh Sinthavong, and China's Deputy Director of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), Hu Zucai.
The ceremony was held at the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRF), which began on Thursday in Beijing and is scheduled to run until tomorrow. Under the MoC, a rail bridge between Nong Khai and Vientiane will be built close to the first Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge.
The rail tracks between the two sites will be 1.44-metre wide standard gauge. Meanwhile, another one-metre gauge standard rail track will be laid on the Thai side and connected with dual track rail routes at Na Tha station in Nong Khai's Muang district.
China will offer technical assistance in the construction. The route will form part of a rail network connecting the region with China in the near future.
Mr Arkhom said Thailand and Laos will each be responsible for half of the construction cost of the bridge, which is likely to be completed by the time the Sino-Thai high-speed railway project's second phase from Nakhon Ratchasima to Nong Khai finishes in 2023.
The high-speed rail scheme between Nakhon Ratchasima to Nong Khai, which stretches 355 kilometres, will be dealt with by Thailand in terms of construction design, he said, adding that China will offer technical assistance during construction.
The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the project's second phase was approved by the National Environment Board earlier this week, the minister said.
The design of the second phase is likely to take six or eight months while the bidding and construction phase is likely to begin around the middle of next year. Construction of the entire project is slated to be completed in 2023.
Chaiwat Thongkamkoon, permanent secretary for transport, said 751 million baht has been budgeted for the design of the second phase. The State Railway of Thailand is likely to proceed with the bidding for the project design within two months, he said.
According to Mr Arkhom, the project's first phase which runs from Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima is likely to open in 2022.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is due to lead several cabinet ministers in attendance at the BRF today.
Gen Prayut is scheduled to give a speech on connectivity and economic cooperation between Asean and China's Belt and Road scheme.