Kunming–Singapore railway

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Kunming–Singapore railway
Overview of the projected links (in yellow) and yet to be opened (in red). Kunming–Singapore railway.
  • Operational:
  • Under Construction:
    Nakhon Ratchasima–Bangkok (high-speed)[1][2]
  • Planned:
    Nakhon Ratchasima–Nong Khai (high-speed)
Opened1 July 1918 (1918-07-01) (Bangkok–Padang Besar section)
31 July 1958 (1958-07-31) (Bangkok–Nong Khai section)
3 May 1932 (1932-05-03) (Padang Besar–Singapore section)
5 March 2009 (2009-03-05) (Nong Khai–Thanaleng section)[3]
3 December 2021 (2021-12-03) (Kunming–Vientiane section)[4][5]
Line length3,900 km (2,400 mi)
Track gauge1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in) standard gauge (Kunming–Vientiane)
1,000 mm (3 ft 3+38 in) metre gauge (Indochina)
Electrification25 kV 50/60 Hz AC (Kunming–Vientiane section and KTM ETS)
How the central route will look when completed

The Kunming–Singapore railway is a network of railways that connects China, Singapore and all the countries of mainland Southeast Asia. The concept originated with the British and French colonial empires, which sought to link the railways they had built in southwest China, Indochina and Malaya, but international conflicts in the 20th century kept regional railways fragmented. The idea was formally revived in October 2006 when 18 Asian and Eurasian countries signed the Trans-Asian railway Network Agreement, which incorporated the Kunming–Singapore railway into the Trans-Asian railway network.

The 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 the network from Bangkok to Singapore has been operational since 1918. The Central route opened on 3 December 2021, with the opening of the Yuxi–Mohan railway and Boten–Vientiane railway linking with the other operational segments of the route,[6] which formally connected Kunming and Singapore directly by rail. There have been plans for high-speed railway constructions, though only one line (between Bangkok and Nakhon Ratchasima) has since entered the construction phase.

The railway network is expected to increase regional economic integration and increase China's economic ties with Southeast Asia.


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.[7] 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 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.[8] 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 1936, Vietnam's main railway, from Hanoi to Saigon was completed. This French-built system was (and still is) metre-gauge.

In 1942, the railways of Thailand and Cambodia were connected linking Bangkok and Phnom Penh, but this trans-border 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 is now partially submerged by the reservoir behind the Vajiralongkorn Dam.

A continuous metre-gauge rail line from Kunming to Singapore via Hanoi, Saigon, Phnom 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.[9]

21st century revival[edit]

In 2000, ASEAN proposed completing the Kunming to Singapore railway, via Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), Phnom Penh, and Bangkok.[7][10][11] This 5,500 km (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.[12] In 2007 ASEAN and China proposed building three routes, the Eastern, Western and a central route via Laos.[13]


Note that a grouped column before multiple lines denote lines that span the same origin and destination, but run along different speed or gauge.

Eastern route - 60 km/h - 3,300 km
Country Line Description Designed


Gauge Open Date
 China Kunming–Yuxi Part of the Kunming–Yuxi–Hekou main railway, upgraded in 2016. 200 106 Standard 1993
Yuxi–Mengzi–Hekou Part of the Kunming–Yuxi–Hekou main railway. Connects the border town of Hekou with its Vietnamese counterpart at Lào Cai. 140 282 Standard 2014
 Vietnam Lào Cai–Hanoi Colonial-era metre-gauge railway running between Hanoi and the China-Vietnam border at Lào Cai; part of the Kunming–Haiphong railway ~60 296 Metre 1902
Hanoi–Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam's north–south railway and main railway backbone; metre-gauge ~60 1726 Metre 1936
(high-speed) A proposed high-speed line for the north–south railway Unknown
~1726 Standard Unknown
Ho Chi Minh City–Phnom Penh Missing but proposed railway section connecting Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh Unknown ~250 Unknown Not built
Phnom Penh–Poipet Rebuilt railway connecting Phnom Penh with the Cambodia-Thailand border town of Poipet ~90 ~386 Metre 2018
 Thailand Poipet–Bangkok Thailand's Eastern railway line ~100 261 Metre 1907
Central route - 100 km/h - 1,660 km
Country Line Description Designed


Gauge Open Date
 China Kunming–Yuxi Part of the Kunming–Yuxi–Hekou main railway upgraded in 2016 200 106 Standard 1993
Yuxi–Mohan Line connecting Yuxi with the China-Laos border at Mohan 160 507 Standard 2021
 Laos Boten–Vientiane First railway line in Laos spanning the country, between the Chinese border at Boten to the capital Vientiane near the Thai border 160 422 Standard 2021
Vientiane–Nong Khai First international railway line to Laos, across First Thai–Lao Friendship Bridge to Thanaleng, Vientiane Prefecture. The 9-km extension to Khamsavath station opened in 2023. ~100 14 Metre 2009
Vientiane–Nong Khai A new high-speed standard-gauge line (Phase 3) (including a new Mekong bridge which is 50 meters from the current one) 250 16 Standard Unknown
 Thailand Nong Khai–Bangkok Thailand's Northeastern railway line to Nong Khai and further to the Lao border (Mekong River) ~100 627 Metre 1958
Nong Khai–Nakhon Ratchasima A new high-speed standard-gauge line (Phase 2) 250 356 Standard Unknown
Nakhon Ratchasima–Bangkok A new high-speed standard-gauge line under construction, connecting Nakhon Ratchasima to Bang Sue Grand Station (Phase 1) 250 253 Standard 2027
Western route - 24 km/h - 2,670 km
Country Line Description Designed


Gauge Open Date
 China Kunming–Guangtong–Dali
Upgraded and double-tracked line from Kunming to Dali 200 328 Standard 2018
Dali–Baoshan Part of the Dali–Ruili railway 140 134 Standard 2022
Baoshan–Ruili Part of the Dali–Ruili railway, under construction 140 196 Standard c.2025
 Myanmar Muse–Lashio Proposed line extending Myanmar's existing railway to the Chinese border at Muse Unknown ~120 Unknown Not built
Lashio–Mandalay Part of Myanmar's national railway system ~24 441 Metre 1905
Mandalay–Yangon ~24 620 Metre 1889
Yangon–Mawlamyine ~24 286 Metre 1907
Mawlamyine–Thanbyuzayat ~24 64 Metre 1924
 Thailand Thanbyuzayat–Nam Tok Part of the old Burma Railway, now disused. Unknown ~285 Metre Abandoned
Nam Tok–Bangkok Part of the old Burma Railway, rehabilitated by 1957. Unknown 194 Metre 1957
Shared BangkokSingapore section - 100 km/h - 1,940 km
Country Line Description Designed


Gauge Open Date
 Thailand Bangkok–Hat Yai–Padang Besar Thailand's Southern railway line and branch line to the Malaysian border at Padang Besar ~100 974 Metre 1918
 Malaysia Padang Besar–Gemas Malaysia's West Coast Line, initially completed around 1896, fully electrified and run by the KTM ETS service since 2014 140 755 Metre c.1896
Gemas–Johor Bahru Malaysia's West Coast Line, currently run by KTM Intercity, to be electrified and run by the KTM ETS service by 2025 110 197 Metre c.1896
 Singapore Johor Bahru–Singapore Shuttle Tebrau service running between Johor Bahru and Singapore 110 ~4 Metre 1903
Johor Bahru–Singapore RTS Link service between Johor Bahru and Singapore, projected to open in 2026. 110 4 Standard 2026


Eastern route[edit]

In China[edit]

In Vietnam[edit]

Map of Vietnam's railways

In Laos[edit]

In Cambodia[edit]

  • The Phnom PenhPoipet railway, next to Aranyaprathet on the Thai border, was rebuilt and reopened on July 5, 2018. The original railway was destroyed in 1973 during the Cambodian Civil War.[17]
  • The disconnected rail link from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City is being reconsidered. The cost for construction is estimated around US$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.

In Thailand[edit]

Central route[edit]

The central route including the Bangkok to Singapore section is approximately 3,900 km (2,400 mi) in length.[18] A trip from Kunming to Singapore will take 30 hours in 2022, and 18 hours when completed in 2040. (compared to 80 hours from Vientiane to Singapore in January 2019).[19][20] The line will be used to transport both passengers and cargo.[21][22]

The central route consists of the following sections:

In China[edit]

  • Kunming–Yuxi railway, from Kunming to Yuxi (completed in 1993, upgraded in 2016).
  • Yuxi–Mohan railway, 503 km standard gauge railway from Yuxi to Mohan at the border with Laos. This line was originally planned to begin construction by the end of 2010, but was delayed. Construction of a railway logistics hub in Mohan began in early 2011.[23] Construction began in 2016 and was completed in 2021.

In Laos[edit]

Map of Laos

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 25 April 2011 but was delayed due to a corruption scandal that removed the Chinese railway minister, Liu Zhijun from office.[18] 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 would cover 70 percent of the project's cost of US$7 billion.[27][28][29] The project was downgraded to a conventional speed railway with a maximum speed of 160 km/h instead of 200 km/h.[28] As the terrain in Laos is mountainous, 76 bridges and 154 tunnels will need to be built.[28] Unexploded bombs that have been dropped during the Vietnam War will have to be removed.[21][23]

The loan finance arrangement for this line was criticized by economists in the West as too expensive for Laos.[30] There is also controversy over villagers whose houses will 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.[29][31] The National Assembly of Laos approved the project in October 2012, but the construction has not commenced because 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. On 22 July 2014, China's Exim Bank suspended loans to Laotian infrastructure projects, leaving the rail project in jeopardy.[32] On 28 July 2014, at a meeting with Chinese Communist Party general secretary Xi Jinping in Beijing, Lao People's Revolutionary Party general secretary Choummaly Sayasone asked the Chinese government to continue its assistance of rail development in Laos.[33]

In October 2014, Radio Free Asia reported that China had made a new pledge to finance the project as talks between the two countries continued.[34]

In January 2016, Singapore's Straits Times reported that ground was broken on the project in December 2015.[35]

The first multiple unit train (EMU) was delivered to Vientiane on October 16, 2021, and the line opened on 3 December 2021.[36]

In Thailand[edit]

  • Northeastern Line (Thailand), a metre gauge railway connecting Bangkok with Nong Khai. Currently in operation.
    • Bangkok–Nong Khai high-speed railway, a planned high-speed railway from Bangkok to Nong Khai on the border with Laos. As of 2020, 2 of the contracts for the Bangkok-Nakhon Ratchasima section is under construction, while the Nakhon Ratchasima–Nong Khai have yet to enter the bidding phase. Costs of this section was to be determined by February 2016 with construction starting in May 2016. When completed, eight-car, 613 passenger CRH2G[37] passenger trains will run on the line at a maximum speed of 250 km/h. At a speed of 180 km/h, it is estimated that passenger trains will run from Bangkok to Nong Khai in 230 minutes. HXD3B and HXD3C electric locomotives will be used to power freight trains travelling the line at 120 km/h.[24]
Map of Thailand.

Planning for the high-speed line began during the administration of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva of the Democratic Party, which agreed to borrow US$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.[38] 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.[38] Supoj Sablorm, the secretary of the Thai Ministry of Transport, 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.[38] 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.[39] 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.[40]

On 19 November 2013, the Thai Senate passed a bill that authorized the government to borrow US$69.5 billion to fund high-speed rail and other infrastructure projects in Thailand without going through the annual government budgeting process.[41] The opposition Democratic Party challenged the spending bill in court and a judge expressed doubt about the necessity of high-speed rail for Thailand.[42] The ensuing political protests in Bangkok, which began in December 2013 and continued through May 2014, has paralyzed the Thai government and prevented further decision-making of the rail project.

On 30 July 2014, Thai army chief General Prayut Chan-o-cha, whose forces seized control of the government through a bloodless coup in May, announced plans to build two high-speed rail lines as part of a 741.4 billion baht transportation program.[43] The Nong Khai to Map Ta Phut line, 737 kilometres (458 mi) in length, would run from the Laotian border at Thanaleng to the Gulf of Thailand.[43] The Chiang Khong to Ban Phachi line, 655 kilometres (407 mi) in length, would run from Chiang Rai near the northern tip of Thailand to Ayutthaya just north of Bangkok.[43] The two lines would allow trains to travel at a top speed of 160 km/h.[43] Construction is scheduled to begin in 2015 and is to be completed in 2021.[43]

In November 2014, after a meeting between Li Keqiang and Prayut Chan-o-cha, China agreed to lend Thailand funds to build dual-track standard gauge mid-speed railways on the Bangkok-Nong Khai, Bangkok-Map Ta Phut, and Kaeng KhoiMap Ta Phut routes.[44] The loans could be repaid with rice and rubber.[44] On 4 December 2014, the Thai National Legislative Assembly voted 187–0 with seven abstentions to approve loans for the Nong Khai-Map Ta Phut and Kaeng Khoi-Bangkok lines.[45] China would undertake construction and development of the lines but would not receive land use rights along the routes.[45] On 19 December 2014, the two countries signed a memorandum to build the railways.[46]

As of December 2015, China and Thailand have agreed to build the 845 km double-track rail routes connecting Bangkok–Kaeng Khoi–Nakhon RatchasimaKhon KaenUdon Thani–Nong Khai and a second section connecting Kaeng Khoi–Map Ta Phut. The two parties have not yet reached agreement on financing for the project.[24]

In March 2020, the Thai government committed to a US$21 billion railway expansion plan that will include a high speed rail from China to Singapore through Bangkok via the Laotian border near Vientiane.[47]

As of March 2021, the proposed completion of the high speed section from Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima is early 2027. The section from Nakhon Ratchasima to Nong Khai has not been bid. However, the lines do lie along an existing line primarily used for freight so no additional land will need to be appropriated.[48]

Western route[edit]

The western route consists of the following railway sections:

In China[edit]

Double-track construction of the Kunming to Guangtong section of the Chengdu–Kunming railway at Anning in 2012.

In Myanmar[edit]

Map of Myanmar
  • Kunming–Yangon railway (Myanmar section), from Muse in the Shan State on the border with China to Yangon with maximum train speeds of 170–200 km/h.

The Kunming–Yangon high-speed railway forms a portion of the 1,215 km (755 mi) high-speed railway from Kunming to Rakhine State on the Bay of Bengal.[49]

In late November 2010, Chinese state media reported that the railway would begin construction in about two months.[50] 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.[51] 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.[51] On 18 July 2014, the Myanmar government cancelled the project, citing opposition from civil rights groups, villagers and the general public.[49]

In the summer of 2018, plans for the China-Myanmar railway were resumed. [52]

  • 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.[53]

  • 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.[53]

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.[54] 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.[54]

In Thailand[edit]

  • Parts of the Burma Railway are still in operation, connecting Nam Tok in western Thailand with Bangkok.

Bangkok–Singapore section[edit]

In Thailand[edit]

  • Southern Line (Thailand), a metre gauge railway connecting Bangkok with Hat Yai, with a branch line leading to Padang Besar on the Thailand-Malaysian border. Currently in operation.

In Malaysia and Singapore[edit]

The KTM line from Padang Besar to Gemas was electrified and double tracked in 2015, and upgrade works from Gemas to Johor Bahru are expected to be completed by October 2022, bringing down journey times from Woodlands North in Singapore to KL Sentral to about 4 hours.[55][56]

According to PLANMalaysia, a northern high-speed rail corridor will be built along North-South Expressway and the stations will be at Tanjung Malim, Tapah, Ipoh, Taiping and terminated at Butterworth.[57]

Cancelled high-speed rail plan[edit]

In 2013, the governments of Malaysia and Singapore agreed to build a Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore that was scheduled to open in 2026. But shortly after winning the May 2018 election, the incoming Malaysian prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad said he would reconsider the project.[58][59] Among revisions being explored to reduce costs, was to align the route to the existing meter gauge Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) line and lay a standard gauge track in parallel, with a fork running to Jurong East so that bilateral agreement is not violated, to allow trains running at 200 km/h, cutting journey time between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore to 130 minutes.[60] Stations were planned for Bandar Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, Bangi-Putrajaya, Labu (Seremban), Muar, Batu Pahat, Iskandar Puteri and Jurong East. The plan has been cancelled after 2 extensions requested by Malaysia, with the project allowed to lapse on 31 December 2020.[61]

See also[edit]


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