LAOS: State Railway of Thailand began running test trains over the recently-completed rail link into Laos on July 4. SRT plans to operate two test trains a day until July 15, with passengers carried free of charge but unable to alight in Laos until customs facilities are completed. The railway will be formally inaugurated by Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn during August.
An extension of the Thai network, the metre-gauge line runs for 3·5 km from the previous SRT railhead at Nong Khai. It crosses the Mekong on the Friendship Bridge, which opened to road traffic in 1994 with an isolated metre-gauge track provided in anticipation of the rail project. The line currently terminates at Tha Na Laeng, where there are freight and passenger facilities.
The contract for construction of the line was awarded to Sermsanguan Construction Co in September 2006, and a ground-breaking ceremony was held at the site of the Laotian terminal in Dongphosy on January 19 the following year. The 197m baht cost has been funded through a 70% loan and 30% grant from the Thai government to Laos.
Laos has no other railways, a short French-built portage line on the Mekong having been abandoned many years ago. However Laos Railway Authority has commissioned surveys for a 12 km extension of the Tha Na Laeng line as far as Sok Kham in the suburbs of the capital Vientiane. A further extension to Vietnam is also proposed.