Work has begun on the Chinese section of the Kunming-Singapore high-speed railway.
The 420km China-Laos section starts in Kunming, capital city of Yunnan province, and terminates in Vientiane, Laos.
Construction of a railway logistics centre has already begun at the border town of Mohan. Given the mountainous terrain in Laos, the line will require 165 bridges and 69 tunnels.
According to an official of the Ministry of Railways in Beijing, Chen Jie, the clearing of unexploded bombs in Laos dropped during the Vietnam War could delay the completion of the construction.
“These bombs will have to be detonated and cleared to avoid problems later,” Chen said. Barring obstacles, completion of the line is planned for May 2015.
Construction of the 620km Laos-Thailand link, Nong Khai from the border of Laos to Bangkok, is expected to start in October and be completed in September 2015.
Other lines yet to start construction are the 240km domestic link between Bangkok and the Rayong province and the 558km Bangkok-Padang Besar line which ends at the northern side of the Malaysia-Thai border.
State Railway of Thailand is in talks with China to invest and provide the expertise for the project. Construction is expected to start later this year after negotiations between the two countries are completed.
The Padang Besar line will then be linked to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
The Kunming-Singapore high-speed railway with total lines measuring 4,800km is expected to be operational in 2020, five years behind schedule due to several constraints including lack of funds. Travelling time from Kunming to Singapore will take 10 hours 15 minutes.
Currently it takes 73 hours to travel by train from Singapore to Vientiane with stops in Kuala Lumpur, Butterworth on the mainland of the northern Malaysian state of Penang, Hatyai and Bangkok.
The idea for the Kunming-Singapore railway was conceived at an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Prime Ministers’ conference in Singapore in 1995.
It will be the central line of the south east part of the Trans-Asian Railway Network which was mooted in the 1960s with the aim of providing a continuous 14,000km rail link between Singapore and Istanbul with the hope of possible onward connections to Europe and Africa.
ASEAN is a 10-nation bloc comprising Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore, Indonesia, Laos and the Philippines.