Kunming–Singapore Railway

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Kunming–Singapore Railway
Type High Speed Rail
Status Planned[1]
Locale China, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore
Termini Kunming, China
Opening ~2020
Line length 3,900 km (2,400 mi)
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge
Electrification Overhead catenary
Overview of the missing links (in yellow) the Kunming-Singapore Railway.

The Kunming–Singapore Railway refers to a planned network of railways that would connect China, Singapore and all the countries of mainland Southeast Asia. The concept originated with British and French imperialists, who sought to link the railways they had built in southwest China, Indochina and Malaya. International conflicts in the 20th century kept regional railways fragmented. In October 2006, the idea was formally revived in the Trans-Asian Railway Network Agreement signed by 18 Asian and Eurasian countries, incorporated the Kunming-Singapore Railway into the Trans Asian Railways.

The proposed network consists of three main routes from Kunming, China to Bangkok, Thailand: the Eastern Route via Vietnam and Cambodia; the Central Route via Laos, and the Western Route via Myanmar. The southern half of network from Bangkok to Singapore has long been operational, though a high-speed line has been proposed.[2]

As of January 2014, construction of sections connecting China with Vietnam, China with Myanmar and Laos with Vietnam are under way. Work on sections in Myanmar and Laos were set to begin in early 2011 with Chinese assistance, but have been delayed. A high-speed rail project in Vietnam with Japanese support was cancelled in 2010 due to high cost. Those sections were originally expected to be completed in 2020.[3] The railway network is expected to increase regional economic integration and increase China's economic ties with Southeast Asia.[3][4]


Colonial railways[edit]

The British and French Empires first proposed building a railway from Kunming to Singapore in 1900 as Russia was completing the Trans-Siberian Railway.[5] From 1904 to 1910, the French built the Yunnan–Vietnam Railway, to connect Kunming with Hanoi and Haiphong in French Tonkin, now northern Vietnam. In 1936, the Vietnam's main railway, from Hanoi to Saigon was completed. This French-built system was (and still is) metre-gauge.

In 1918, the southern line of the Thailand railway system was connected with British Malaya's west coast line, completing a metre gauge rail link from Bangkok to Singapore.[6] In the late 1930s, the British began to build the Yunnan–Burma Railway but abandoned the effort in 1941 with the outbreak of World War II. In 1942, the railways of Thailand and Cambodia were connected linking Bangkok and Phnom Penh, but this transborder connection has long since fallen into disuse. The Japanese Empire built the infamous Thailand-Burma Railway using prisoners of war to connect Bangkok and Yangon, but the entire line never entered commercial operation and much of the line has been submerged by the Vajiralongkorn Dam.

A continuous metre-gauge rail line from Kunming to Singapore via Hanoi, Saigon, Phenom Penh, Bangkok, and Kuala Lumpur was not realized as the French never built the "missing link" between Phnom Penh and Saigon, choosing to build a highway instead.[7]

21st century revival[edit]

In 2000, ASEAN proposed completing the Kunming to Singapore Railway, via Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City (former Saigon), Phnom Penh, and Bangkok.[5][8][9] This 5,500 kilometres (3,400 mi) route is now known as the Eastern Route. In 2004 ASEAN and China proposed the shorter Western Route, which instead of running east through Vietnam and Cambodia, would go west from Kunming to Myanmar and then to Bangkok.[10] In 2007 ASEAN and China proposed building three routes, the Eastern, Western and a Central Route via Laos to connect China with Southeast Asia.[11]

Planning & construction[edit]

Eastern Route[edit]

  • In Laos
    • Savannakhet–Lao Bao Railway, 220 km, electrified double track, high-speed railway from Savannakhet on the border with Thailand to Lao Bao on the border with Vietnam. The project costs $4 billion and is being built by the Giant Consolidated of Malaysia.[12] A ground breaking ceremony was held in Ban Naxai on December 18, 2013.[13] This line will also be extended to the Port of Danang in Vietnam, and give landlocked Laos an outlet to the South China Sea.[13]
  • In Cambodia
    • The disconnected rail link from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City is being reconsidered. The cost for construction is estimated around $600 million and the Chinese government will fund most proportion of construction. The Cambodian government will deal with the relocation of people who will be affected by the proposed new railway construction.

Central Route[edit]

The Central Route including the Bangkok to Singapore section will be 3,900 kilometres (2,400 mi) in length.[3] When completed, a trip from Kunming to Singapore would take 10 hours by rail on the Central Route (compared to 72 hours from Vientiane to Singapore in April 2011).[3][14][15][16] The line will be used to transport both passengers and cargo.[4][17]

The Central Route consists of the following sections:

  • In China
    • Kunming–Yuxi Railway, from Kunming to Yuxi (completed in 1993).
    • Yuxi–Mohan Railway, 503 km standard gauge railway from Yuxi to Mohan at the border with Laos (under planning). This line was originally planned to begin construction by the end of 2010, but has been delayed. Construction of a railway logistics hub in Mohan began in early 2011.[18]
  • In Laos
    • Boten-Vientane Railway, 421 km (262 mi) standard gauge from Boten on the border with China, to Vientane, on the border with Thailand. This line was originally planned as a high-speed rail joint-venture between the Laotian government and the China Railway Corporation, the Chinese state rail operator, and set to begin construction on April 25, 2011 but was delayed due to a corruption scandal that removed the Chinese railway minister, Liu Zhijun from office.[1][3] The Laotian government then became the sole investor in the project, which is funded with a loan from the Export-Import Bank of China that will cover 70% of the project's cost of $7 billion.[19][20][21] The project was downgraded to a conventional speed railway with a maximum speed of 160 km/h instead of 200 km/h.[20] As the terrain in Laos is mountainous, 76 bridges and 154 tunnels will need to be built.[20] Unexploded bombs that have been dropped during the Vietnam War will have to be removed.[18][4]
The loan finance arrangement for this line has been criticized by economists in the West as too expensive for Laos.[22] There is also controversy over villagers whose houses will have to be moved to accommodate the new railway line. One village, Bopiat in northern Laos, has already been moved once to allow the construction of a casino.[21][23] The Lao parliament approved the project in October 2012, but the project not proceeded to construction as the Chinese state lender has been waiting since July 2013 for the Thai legislature to approve funding for the Thailand section of the railway line before going ahead with funding for the Laos project.
  • In Thailand
    • Bangkok-Nong Khai Railway, a high-speed railway from Bangkok to Nong Khai on the border with Laos (under planning).
    • Bangkok-Hat Yai / Padang Besar Railway, a high-speed railway from Bangkok to Hat Yai and Padang Besar, near the border with Malaysia (under planning).
Planning for these lines began during the administration of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva of the Democratic Party, which agreed to borrow $400 million from China to purchase materials and expertise, and build one high speed line to Nong Khai Province to the north and another to the Padang Basar on the Malaysian border to the south.[24] When Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra of the Puea Thai Party took office in August 2011, the Thai government initially scaled back those plans and proposed shorter lines that connected Thai cities but did not reach international frontiers.[24] Supoj Sablorm, the secretary of the Thailand Transport Ministry, explained that Thailand was not in a rush to build a high-speed rail line to Laos because the Chinese-backed project in Laos had been delayed to beyond 2014.[24] A year later in August 2012, the Thai government announced the plans to build four high-speed rail lines, including extensions to Nong Khai and Hat Yai by 2022.[25] In October 2013, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, on a visit to Thailand, promoted Chinese high-speed rail technology and offered loan packages for high-speed rail construction that are partially repayable with rice and rubber.[26]
On November 19, 2013, the Thai Senate passed a bill that authorizes the government to borrow $69.5 billion to fund high-speed rail and other infrastructure projects in Thailand without going through the annual government budgeting process.[27] The opposition Democratic Party challenged the spending bill in court and a judge expressed doubt about the necessity of high-speed rail for Thailand.[28] The ensuing political protests in Bangkok, which began in December 2013 and continued through February 2014, has paralyzed the Thai government and prevented further decision-making of the rail project.

Western Route[edit]

The Western Route consists of the following railway sections:

  • In China
Double-track construction of the Kunming to Guangtong section of the Chengdu–Kunming Railway at Anning in 2012.
  • In Myanmar
    • Kunming–Yangon High-Speed Railway (Myanmar section), from Muse on the border with China to Yangon with maximum train speeds of 170-200 km/h. In late November 2010, Chinese state media reported that the railway would begin construction in about two months.[29] But in March 2011, the Chinese Commerce Minister Chen Deming stated that the project was delayed due to the first elections in Myanmar in 20 years and differences in the railway gauge of the two countries.[30] He explained the Chinese rail developers were waiting for the new cabinet in Myanmar to form and expressed hope that work on the line would begin before the end of 2011.[30]
    • Yangon-Myitkyina Railway, from Yangon to Myitkyina, near the border with China (existing railway). In December 2013, the Myanmar government began to discuss the upgrade of the existing Yangon-Myitkyina Railway with the Asian Development Bank and the government of South Korea.[31]
    • Yangon-Mandalay Railway, from Yangon to Mandalay (existing railway). In December 2013, Japanese media reported that the Myanmar and Japanese governments had reached an agreement to upgrade this line.[31]
    • Yangon-Bangkok Railway. In May 2012, the Railway Minister Aung Min of Myanmar announced that a feasibility study would be undertaken to rebuild the 105-km stretch of the Thai-Burma Railway from the Three Pagoda Pass to the Thai border.[32] The railway could be reopened, he said, with international assistance and promote development in the region and peace with ethnic Shan and Karen rebels in the border areas.[32]

Malaysia to Singapore section[edit]

In September 2010 the Malaysian government discussed plans to build a high-speed rail line between Penang, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "High-speed Railway Delay". Radio Free Asia. 26 April 2011. Retrieved 29 April 2011. 
  2. ^ a b "KL mulls Penang-Singapore high-speed rail link". The Malaysian Insisder. 21 September 2010. Retrieved 26 April 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c d e "Kunming-Singapore High-Speed Railway begins construction". People's Daily. 25 April 2011. Retrieved 26 April 2011. 
  4. ^ a b c "China coming down the tracks". The Economist. 20 January 2011. Retrieved 26 April 2011. 
  5. ^ a b "SE-Asia railway idea revived". BBC. 4 November 2001. Retrieved 26 April 2011. 
  6. ^ Kakizaki, Ichirō (2005), Laying the tracks: the Thai economy and its railways 1885-1935, Volume 10 of Kyoto area studies on Asia, Trans Pacific Press, p. 113, ISBN 1-920901-02-7 
  7. ^ Kakizaki 2005, p. 127
  8. ^ "The Singapore-Kunming rail link project". ASEAN. 26 September 2007. Retrieved 26 April 2011. 
  9. ^ "Kunming Singapore railway". Philippine Daily Enquirer. 23 November 2000. Retrieved 26 April 2011. 
  10. ^ "Asean signs historic deal with China". The Guardian. 29 November 2004. Retrieved 26 April 2011. 
  11. ^ "Wen: China to speed up Pan-Asian rail link". China Daily. 15 January 2007. Retrieved 26 April 2011. 
  12. ^ "Laos signs railway project to link with Vietnam". China Daily. 2012-11-06. Retrieved 2014-02-19. 
  13. ^ a b "Laos Breaks Ground On Railway Project Linking Thailand to Vietnam". Radio Free Asia. 2014-01-03. Retrieved 2014-02-19. 
  14. ^ China Hospitality (April 26, 2011). "Kunming-Singapore high speed rail planned for 2020". Global Times. Retrieved 27 April 2011. 
  15. ^ "Train schedules for the main line between Singapore, Malaysia & Thailand...". Seat61. Retrieved 26 April 2011. "It's up to you whether you travel from Singapore to Bangkok all in one go in 48 hours" 
  16. ^ "Bangkok to Vientiane by train...". Seat61. Retrieved 26 April 2011. 
  17. ^ "Work Begins on Kunming-Singapore High-Speed Rail Link". Voice of America. 25 April 2011. Retrieved 26 April 2011. 
  18. ^ a b "Work begins on Kunming to Singapore high-speed railway". Eandt.theiet.org. 2011-05-16. Retrieved 2014-02-13. 
  19. ^ "Work begins on Kunming-Singapore rail link". Want China Times. 2011-04-25. Retrieved 19 February 2014. 
  20. ^ a b c "Vientiane-China rail link now a priority project". Deutsche Presse-Agentur. 25 September 2013. Retrieved 19 February 2014. 
  21. ^ a b "Train plan upsets Lao villagers". TR Weekly (AFP). 11 April 2011. Retrieved 26 April 2011. 
  22. ^ "China's 120mph railway arriving in Laos China's mammoth engineering project to construct a railway from southwest China’s Yunnan Province all the way to Singapore is set to transform rural Laos". The Telegraph. 2014-01-14. Retrieved 2014-02-19. 
  23. ^ "Upheaval along the tracks for Laos villagers". AFP. 11 April 2011. Retrieved 26 April 2011. 
  24. ^ a b c Reuters (2011-08-23). "Thailand revises high-speed rail plan, Laos link shelved". Reuters. Retrieved 2014-02-19. 
  25. ^ Nophakhun Limsamarnphun (2012-08-18). "High-speed rail network to link Asean countries". The Nation. Retrieved 2014-02-19. 
  26. ^ "China still has chance to be part of Thailand rail project". 2014-02-19. Retrieved 19 February 2014. 
  27. ^ "Thai Senate passes $69.5B infrastructure bill". 2013-11-19. Retrieved 19 February 2014. 
  28. ^ "Constitution Court Judge: High speed rail not necessary for Thailand". 2014-01-09. Retrieved 19 February 2014. 
  29. ^ "High-speed rail between Yunnan and Myanmar on agenda". People's Daily=2010-11-22. Retrieved 2014-02-19. 
  30. ^ a b "中缅高铁被迫暂缓施工". Duowei News=2011-03-08. Retrieved 2014-02-19. 
  31. ^ a b "Myanmar govt looking to upgrade Yangon-Myitkyina Rail railway". Thai PBS. 2013-12-12. Retrieved 2014-02-19. 
  32. ^ a b "Burma to restore infamous Death Railway". ABC.net.au. 2012-05-21. Retrieved 2014-02-19.