PROPOSALS for construction of a 128 km railway from Ho Chi Minh City to Loc Ninh near the Cambodian border have been under discussion for many years, but the Vietnam Railway Administration announced last month that it hoped to start work by 2010.

VNA has completed a feasibility study for the line, assisted by China National Machinery Import & Export Corp and China Railway Construction Corp, who are clearly looking to win a share of the project.

The line is a critical link in the Trans-Asean Railway connecting Singapore and Kunming, which remains a priority for the 10 countries in the Association of South East Asian Nations. Around 550 km of new line is needed to complete a 7?000 km metre-gauge network connecting seven countries. Asean Secretary-General Ong Keng Yong said at the end of August that the cost of the package will be at least US$10bn.

Speaking after a joint meeting between Asean and the Mekong Basin Development Corp in Manila, Ong suggested that the member states wanted to see the network completed in time for the launch of the Asean Economic Community in 2015.

Much of the funding is expected to come from the individual governments, although a 'high-profile seminar' and roadshow is planned later this year to try and attract US$2bn of private investment. However, MBDC has a list of 45 other priority development projects in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand and southern China which will be competing with the railway for any funds that are available.