Feature: China-Laos railway carrys dreams, brings hearts closer

Source: Xinhua / Updated: 2021-10-11
The sunshine in October is still burning in a railing base in the northern outskirts of Lao capital Vientiane, but what Sida Phengphongsawanh, a trainee for China-Laos railway train driver, cares, is the jingle of the train maintenance which sounds like music.

The crisp sound in the China Railway No. 2 Engineering Group (CREC-2) of the China-Laos railway seems to celebrate her for one more step closer to fulfill her wish.

The 22-year-old looks gentle while holding a determined "steel locomotive dream": being a train driver. To this end, as soon as she heard that the China-Laos railway was to be built, she thought about working on it in the future.

The China-Laos Railway, which connects Kunming in China's Yunnan Province with Lao capital Vientiane, is the first railway project built with Chinese investment, jointly operated by China and Laos and directly connected to China's railway network. As the project enters the completion acceptance phase, Sida is getting more and more excited and earnest.

"I heard about the Laos-China railway for the first time in 2015. In 2016, I went to Kunming to study the knowledge of railways. After returning home, I went straight to the Laos-China Railway Co., Ltd. to apply for a position. I hope to be an excellent female driver on the Laos-China railway," Sida told Xinhua recently.

Born in the hilly town in northern Laos of Muangxay, Sida came up with the idea of becoming a train driver at an early age. Her hometown is only about 100 km from Laos-China border gate, where the surrounding mountains block the way to China. Sida, who has hardly ever been out of the mountains, had always wanted to see what it looks like across the mountain.

It is also the common wish of Lao people. The country is known as the "roof of the Indochinese Peninsula" and the only landlocked ASEAN member with mountains and plateaus that account for about 80 percent of the land area. Breaking through the blockade of the mountains and converting it from a landlocked country to a land-linked hub are the wishes of Lao people.

"Because of the mountains in northern Laos, the roads connecting the towns are winding and unsafe. Many old people have never walked out of the mountains where they were born," Khamsai Phimvongsa, a farmer in Vientiane told Xinhua.

In 2015, the Chinese and Lao governments signed an intergovernmental railway cooperation agreement, marking the official entry of the China-Laos railway into the implementation phase, which has become an opportunity to realize the aspirations of the Lao people.

The China-Laos railway, as an important part of the trans-Asian railway network, is of great strategic and practical significance to Laos, according to a signed article entitled "Jointly build a community of shared future with strategic significance between China and Laos."

The two sides should strengthen overall coordination and strive for the early completion of the opening of the railway, so that Laos and neighboring countries and the world can be better connected.

The Belt and Road Initiative "is an opportunity, through economic infrastructure, trade, investment and people-to-people's connectivity to deepen the mutual trust and help between and China and Belt and Road Initiative countries. Thus, we have the landed project, Laos-China railway project," Lao Prime Minister Phankham Viphavanh said when interviewed with Xinhua in August.

The railway, hence, carried hopes and expectations of many Lao people.

"Personally, the Laos-China railway has given me a stable job, and at the national level, the Laos-China railway can drive the multi-level and all-round development of Laos. In particular, my hometown of Muangxay has a long history of importing from (China). The opening of the Laos-China railway, will facilitate the importation for Muangxay," Sida said.

Khamsai, the 60-year-old Lao farmer, said he hopes to sell local fruits and vegetables to China to improve the rural life in Laos. A middle-aged official in Xaythany District of Vientiane said, "I hope the railway will extend to Thailand, Vietname and Cambodia, etc., to bring the neighbors to do business, invest and travel."

The 1,013-km China-Laos Railway consists of two sections, the Chinese section and the Lao section. Along the way are mountains and deep valleys with complex geological situation.

Bridge and tunnel ratio is quite high with that in Chinese section up to 87 percent and Lao section up to 63 percent, including the 1,651-meter Ban Ladhan Mekong Bridge, 1,459-meter Luang Prabang Mekong Bridge, 9,384-meter Ban Sen No. 2 Tunnel, 9,296-meter Ban Nakok Tunnel. It is said that the China-Laos railway was not paved out, but erected and drilled through with numerous difficulties.

"I have found that the Chinese engineers are so wonderful. Confronting the complex terrain in the mountains plateaus, they can always use advanced technology to drill through every tunnel," Thonglien Outhayod, a Lao employee in China Railway No.2 Engineering Group (CREC-2) Vientiane railing base told Xinhua in October.

Sida also noticed, "On the construction site, the busy Chinese engineers can always be seen 24 hours a day. The heat in Laos added difficulties to tunnel building, while the temperature in the tunnel is much higher than outside. Working in a tunnel needs great patience and perseverance."

While building the railway, the Laos-China Railway Co., Ltd. has opened training course for around 600 Lao trainees to learn train driving, scheduling and maintenance. Sida is one of them.

The China-Laos Railway also also carries the wishes and dreams of Chinese engineers.

Hu Bin, the project manager of the CREC-2 China-Laos railway railing base in Vientiane, has been working in Laos for four years. His team undertook the tasks of building bridges and laying rails for the whole Lao section, taking the lead in building the first overseas Chinese standard railway beam yard, and realizing the first bridge beam production and installation in a Belt and Road country with Chinese standard.

"I'm very proud to be able to join the Belt and Road project," he told reporters. "We feel very proud to build a railways with Chinese standards and Chinese technology in a foreign country."

Lei Chao, the CREC-2 Vientiane railing base executive manager, is expected to see the completion of the railway in this December. "We feel much pleasure to see that the Lao trainees can grow up in the construction sites of the China-Laos railway, and then have their own stable jobs with full expectation for their future."

The China-Laos railway will bring great convenience to trade and travel between the two countries and become an important part of the north-south artery of the Indochinese Peninsulas in overcoming land transportation difficulties and developing its economy.