LAOS: The Laotian government has asked consultants assessing the environmental impact of the planned 481 km line to link Kunming with Vientiane to accelerate their work to allow construction to begin in April.

Local reports put the cost of the railway at US$7bn, with completion planned for 2015. The new alignment would be built as an extension of Chinese Railways' existing Kunming - Yuxi line to the border crossing at Luang Namtha, before continuing through mountainous northern Laos to the capital. Construction on the Chinese section is already underway (RG 12.10 p7).

As part of China's regional strategy to promote a through route from Kunming to Singapore (RG 1.11 p26), Chinese officials hope to extend the line from Vientiane to Bangkok, which would complement the existing metre-gauge cross-border line from the Laotian railhead at Tha Na Laeng to Nong Khai.

Thai Permanent Secretary for Transport Suphoth Sublom told Reuters on February 17 that the two sides expected to sign a joint venture agreement in April to build the 620 km line at a cost of US$4·9bn. The Thai government would hold a minimum 51% stake in the investment.