04/07/2008, 00.00
LAOS
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Laos enters the age of development with 3.5 kilometres of railway

Laos was one of the last countries in the world not to have developed a railway network. The realisation of the first 3.5 kilometres of track opens the way for ambitious projects involving various European and Chinese investors. The railway projects will provide incentives for the economy and tourism.

Vientiane - (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Laos feels that it is at the beginning of a new era, thanks to the realisation of 3.5 kilometres of railway.  The work will be concluded soon, and will complete the railway line linking Laos with Thailand across the "bridge of friendship" over the Mekong River, abandoned during the second world war.

In spite of the modest dimensions of the railway, the project is aimed at connecting Laos with the coastal cities of Thailand, reducing the costs of freight transport and thus also market prices.

Once this railway line has been completed, there are other ambitious projects involving various investors, in order to incentivise tourism and commerce in the country.  The Hotel Orient Express chain, which is present all over the world, is eager to export its tourism structures to Laos as well, and has its eye on the railway lines constructed by the French colonists, but currently abandoned.

The French government is financing a feasibility study on adding 9 kilometres of track toward the capital of Vientiane, while the United Nations - which sponsored the railway project for Southeast Asia - aims at connecting the capital of Laos with Vietnam, and gradually completing the Trans-Asian line that hypothetically would connect Southeast Asia with Europe one day.

The south-north project, instead, is intended to expand the railway line to connect Singapore with Kunming - in the province of Yunnan in southern China - through Laos.

China has demonstrated interest in the construction of the railway line, which would allow the Asian superpower to expand its economic interests towards southern Asia.  Beijing, in fact, did not hesitate to invest crucial capital in the ambitious 1.7 billion dollar project, which the government of Laos would never have been able to finance on its own.

Laos is one of the last countries in the world without a railway network, and the people are astounded at the idea of seeing it completed and functioning. Mr Sonesack, an engineer in Laos who studied in the former Soviet Union, says in an interview with the Associated Press that many did not think it was possible to build railways in the country, and added: "I thought I would not see it in my own lifetime, maybe in my son's. Now it is reality".

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