The Deputy Director General of the Lao Railway Authority, Mr Sonesack N. Ngansana, said on Monday that the joint survey by Lao and Vietnamese railway officials began last month with the financial support of the Vietnamese government. The survey is expected to take 10 months to complete.
He said the new "friendship railway" would commence in Thakhek town, the capital city of Khammuan province, and stretch east through Nhommalath district to connect with an existing railway in the central Vietnamese province of Quang Binh.
"The survey of over 150 km of the railway between the two countries was actually first begun during the colonial era, and we can still see some evidence of this old railway track," he told Vientiane Times.
Mr Sonesack said that once the survey is completed, the government officials would come together to hear the findings, and discuss funding options for the construction of the friendship railway.
He confirmed that several international financial institutes have expressed interest in providing financial assistance to the project, which is a component of the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) development programme.
According to unofficial estimates, the construction of the railway could run to more than 3.2 trillion kip (US$350million). However Mr Sonesack said that project costs could be even more expensive if the railway is forced to traverse any mountainous areas.
"If the railway passes through any mountains, we will have to excavate a number of tunnels, and costs would be more expensive," he said. "During the survey, we will concentrate on avoiding these areas that would require tunnels, in order to reduce construction costs."
Mr Sonesack said that a railway linking Laos and Vietnam was very important because it would mean a number of existing railways in the region were better much connected. A railway is a symbol of modernisation, makes the transportation of goods easier, and boosts the economic development of a nation, he continued.
The Lao government considers as very important the development of a railway within the country, because it would allow great advancements in efforts to turn the country from landlocked into "land-linked".
The government began the construction of the county's first railway from the Vientiane-Nong Khai Friendship Bridge to Dongphosy village, Hadxaifong district in Vientiane, in January 2007. The 3.5 km railway, funded by the Thai government, is due for completion in April 2008.
The government last month also began the survey of another 9 km railway, to run from Dongphosy village to the planned Vientiane train station in Khamsavath village, Xaysettha district. The survey is funded by the French government.//Vientiane Times/Asia News Network - Janurary 1, 2008