Construction of the Laos-Thailand railway extension linking the existing outer suburban station to central Vientiane is expected to begin at year's end or early next year after the project was suspended in 2011.
Deputy Director General of the Lao Railway Department under the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, Mr Sonesack N. Nhansana, told Vientiane Times yesterday that authorities in charge are working toward organising a bidding process to seek a consultant firm and contractor to carry out construction at the expected date.
To be developed under the phase II, the extended line will be built over a distance of 7.5km to link the track from the outlying Thanalaeng railway station in Hadxaifong district to Khamsavat village in inner Saysettha district.
Laos now has only 3.5 km of rail line linking its capital with Thailand's Nong Khai province via the Laos-Thailand Friendship Bridge. When the extension is complete, it will boast 11 km of track.
Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith told the authorities in charge to work towards resuming construction of the extension in 2017 during his visit to Thanalaeng railway station in December 2016.
Mr Sonesack said finance was available to fund the project as Thailand had provided more than 203 billion kip (S$34.2 million), of which 30 per cent was in the form of a grant and 70 per cent was a low-interest loan.
Once construction resumes, it would take about two years to complete the project, Mr Sonesack said.
He explained the project was previously suspended because Lao authorities wanted to study in detail how services of the 1-metre standard gauge Laos-Thailand track could be integrated with the 1.435-metre standard-gauge track width of the Laos-China railway, which is now under construction.
The authorities have now agreed that one of the stations planned for Vientiane as part of the 427-km Laos-China railway, which will link Vientiane to the Chinese border, will be built in Thanalaeng village so the two lines' services are integrated.
Deputy Head of the Railway Management Division, Mr Khamphet Sisamouth told Vientiane Times previously that he was optimistic that once the extension was finished and operational, it would result in a significant increase in passenger numbers and tourist arrivals.
He justified that the planned railway station in Khamsavat village would be just 4km from the city centre (That Luang) and at 17km was shorter than travelling from That Luang to Thanalaeng railway station using the existing road network.
Thanalaeng railway station, the only station of Laos' 3.5 km railway, handles 2,500 to 3,000 passengers a month, Mr Khamphet said, adding the station has registered growing numbers of passengers these days.
"Passengers keep asking why we don't extend the track into the city centre," he added.
Work on Phase II of the railway began a few years ago, including construction of a container yard, dormitories for staff, and a rail operations office, as well as improvements to the signals.
More than 173 billion kip provided by Thailand was spent on this work, of which 30 per cent was given as a loan and the remainder was a low-interest loan.