Kunming–Hai Phong Railway

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The Faux Namti (Wujiazhai) Bridge over the Sicha River, in the Nanxi Valley region. More than 800 Chinese coolies died here.[1]

The Yunnan–Vietnam Railway (Chinese: 滇越铁路; pinyin: Dian–Yue tielu; Vietnamese: tuyến đường sắt Hải Phòng - Vân Nam綫塘鐵海防-雲南; French: Chemins de Fer de L'Indo-Chine et du Yunnan, "Indo-China–Yunnan Railroad") is an 855 km (531 mi) railway built by France during 1904–1910, connecting Haiphong, Vietnam with Kunming, Yunnan province, China. The section within China from Kunming to Hekou is known as the Kunming–Hekou Railway (Chinese: 昆河铁路; pinyin: Kun–He tielu), and is 466 km long. The section within Vietnam is 389 km (242 mi) long, and is known as the Hanoi–Lào Cai Railway (Vietnamese: Đường sắt Hà Nội - Lào Cai塘鐵河内-老街). The railway was built with 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in) gauge due to the mountainous terrain along the route. Currently it is the only main line in China using 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in) metre gauge.


Historic rolling stock from the Kunming-Hekou Railway and its branches in the Yunnan Railway Museum, at Kunming North Railway Station

In the 19th century, the French colonial administration worked to develop regular trading networks and an efficient transport infrastructure between Indochina and south-west China. The primary motivation for such an effort was to facilitate export of European goods to China.[2] A railway would also give France access to Yunnan's natural resources, mineral resources and opium, and open up the Chinese market for Indochinese products such as rice, dry fish, wood and coal.[2]

Prior to the construction of the railway, the standard travel time from Haiphong (the closest sea port to most of Yunnan) to Kunming was reckoned by the Western authorities to be 28 days: 16 days by steamer and then a small boat up the Red River to Manhao (425 miles), and then 12 days overland (194 miles).[3]

The Kunming–Hai Phong Railway crossing the Nanxi River from Lao Cai, Vietnam (on the right) to Hekou, China (on the left)

The right to build the railway was obtained following China's defeat in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–95). At a cost of 95 million francs (€362 million), the railway was among the most ambitious colonial projects undertaken by France, and was put into use on 1 April 1910.[2][4] The 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in) metre gauge section was originally administered in more or less the same way as the Indochinese networks, and if not for a "missing link" through Cambodia (between Saigon and Phnom Penh), it would have been physically possible for through trains to run from Kunming to Singapore, as 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in) metre gauge was used in Malaya as well.

Under pressure from Japan, France closed the line on 16 July 1940 to cut supplies to China during the Second Sino-Japanese War. During the Japanese occupation Japanese National Railways Class 9600 2-8-0 locomotives were shipped to aid their invasion, and after the completion of the "death railway" it was possible for a time to send through traffic to Burma and hence to the Indian 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in) metre gauge network.[citation needed] This is now not possible, as sections of the railway were destroyed during the conflicts since World War II.[5]

During the Sino-Vietnamese War of 1979, the railway bridge across the Nanxi River at the two countries' border was destroyed, and the trade between China and Vietnam came to a halt for several years.[6]

Gebishi Railway[edit]

The 600 mm (1 ft 11 58 in) narrow gauge Gebishi branch line was built from Bisezhai towards Shiping and was 176 kilometres (109 mi) long. It was constructed in 1915 and the last 72 kilometres (45 mi) part was closed in 1990.

Present state[edit]

A commuter train on a Kunming North - Wangjiaying run in 2016
A freight train on the Hanoi-Lao Cai railway, near Bảo Hà station

Twice-a-week cross-border passenger service operated as late as 2000; the second-class passengers had to transfer from a Chinese train to a Vietnamese train at the border station, while the first-class car passengers could remain on board as their car was transferred to the train across the border. However, landslides caused frequent delays.[7] Eventually, in 2005[8] the passenger service on the Chinese section of the railway (the Kunming–Hekou Railway) was terminated,[9] [10] and most of the passenger coaches were donated to Myanmar.[8]

In 2008, passenger service on a small part (37 km long) of the Chinese section of the railway was resumed, but on a very limited scale. As of 2012, two daily trains ran from Kunming North Railway Station on the meter-gauge tracks to Shizui (石咀) Station on the western outskirts of Kunming, and to Wangjiaying (王家营) east of the city.[8] As of 2016, this service still continues, with 2 daily trains to Wangjiaying and one to Shizui.[11]

Freight service continues to operate throughout the Kunming–Hekou Railway.[9] Some rolling stock continues to be maintained in working condition. According to a 2015 news report, over the seven preceding years, 63 metrer-gauge flatcars had been refurbished at the Kunming North Station's workshop, for use in transborder container shipping.[12] In 2016, 100 mothballed freight railcars were selected to be refurbished at the Kaiyuan workshop and to be put into use again.[13]

Among important cargo types moved internationally on this line are chemical fertilizers.[12] Sine 2015, direct trains have been run from the phosphate fertilizer manufacturers in Kaiyuan to consumers in Vietnam.[14][15] In the opposite direction, sulphur and zinc ore concentrate are imported to China from Vietnam.[15]

The overall role of the Kunming-Hekou meter-gauge line in the Sino-Vietnamese trade significantly declined in the 21st century, as compared to the railway's heyday in the first half of the 20th century. According to one article dated 2015 and describing the trade as it operated prior to the opening of the standard-gauge railway to Hekou in 2014 (see below), the most common route for cargo shipped from Kunming to Vietnam would be the rather circuitous one: via the Nanning–Kunming Railway (opened 1997), the sea port of Fangchenggang, and then by ship to Hai Phong.[16] However, since 2015, the amount of transborder shipments on the meter-gauge line has been on the increase again.[13][15] According to a 2017 report, the first quarter of 2017 saw 166,200 tons of freight shipped by rail on the transborder line, which represented a 66.2% increase from the same period of the previous year, and 12-year record.[15] This consisted of 74,100 tons of fertilizers exported from China to Vietnam and 92,100 tons of sulphur and zinc ore concentrate imported to China from Vietnam.[15]

On the Vietnamese side, the Hanoi-Hai Phong and Hanoi-Lào Cai railways continue to be important for domestic and transborder cargo transportation. Passenger trains continue to run both from Hanoi to Hai Phong and from Hanoi to the border town of Lào Cai.[9][10]

The new Kunming–Hekou railway line[edit]

A new 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge railway line from Kunming toward the Vietnamese border (the Kunming–Yuxi–Hekou Railway) has been constructed in several stages, over the 1990s through 2010s. Its first section, a railway branch from Kunming to Yuxi, was opened in 1993.[17] The new Yuxi–Mengzi section opened for freight service in February 2013; in April 2013, passenger trains started running daily as far as Mengzi North, 258 km (160 mi) south of Kunming and approximately 150 km north of Hekou; the second daily train was added by July.[17]

The Mengzi-Hekou section was opened in December 2014 as well; regular passenger service started between Hekou North Railway Station and Kunming, with some trains continuing to Dali.[18]

Although this new Kunming–Yuxi–Mengzi-Hekou rail line roughly parallels the old Kunming–Hai Phong Railway, the two railway's routes are significantly different: the new rail line, passing through Tonghai and Jianshui, is about 30 km (19 mi) west of the old 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in) metre gauge railway (which runs via Yiliang and Kaiyuan).[17]

Connections to standard-gauge network[edit]

There are a few points where the Kunming–Hai Phong Railway comes into contact with the standard-gauge network, enabling transfer of freight between the narrow-gauge and standard-gauge trains.

In Vietnam, the Hanoi metropolitan area has standard-gauge access via the dual-gauge (meter and standard) line that runs from Hanoi's Gia Lâm Railway Station to the Chinese (Guangxi) border at Đồng Đăng; this is the line that enables direct standard-gauge connection between Hanoi and China.

At the narrow-gauge railway's northern end, Kunming, is served both by the meter-gauge railway and by standard-gauge railways. There is even a level-crossing between the tracks of different gauges.[19]

A short meter-gauge connector line has been constructed between the new Hekou North Railway Station (the southern terminal of the new standard-gauge line) and the old meter-gauge railway, thus allowing to bring cargo from Vietnam on meter-gauge railcar for reloading to standard-gauge rolling stock, and vice versa.[16] The short connecting line joins the Kunming–Hai Phong narrow-gauge mainline at 22°30′53″N 103°59′10″E / 22.514674°N 103.986049°E / 22.514674; 103.986049, a few kilometers from the old Hekou Station.

A similar connection between the narrow-gauge and standard-gauge network exist in Mengzi,[16] where the narrow-gauge Yuguopo Railway Station (雨过铺站) on the Caoba–Guanjiashan branch is adjacent to the standard-gauge Mengzi North Railway Station (蒙自北站) on the Kunming–Yuxi–Hekou line.

Museums and memorials[edit]

A section of the commemorative relief series in Hekou

The Yunnan Railway Museum, at Kunming North Railway Station, has a large exhibit on the Kunming–Hai Phong Railway and its narrow-gauge branch lines within Yunnan, although it covers the history of the province's standard gauge railways as well.

At Hekou, the square outside of the new Hekou North Railway Station (opened 2014) is decorated with reliefs depicting the history of the transportation and economy in the region, with a special focus on the Kunming–Hai Phong Railway.

In fiction[edit]

  • Bisezhai Station (碧色寨) by Fan Wen (范稳).[20]

See also[edit]

Yunnan–Vietnam Railway
Chinese Pinyin
in m
Chengdu–Kunming Railway
to Panzhihua
昆明北 Kūnmíng Běi
Kunming North 1,892
Shanghai–Kunming Railway
to Guiyang
黑土凹 Hēitǔ’āo
牛街庄 Niújiēzhuāng
小喜村 Xiǎoxǐ Cūn
广卫村 Guǎngwèi Cūn
跑马山 Pǎomǎshān
Chenggong County
呈贡 Chénggòng
王家营 Wángjiāyíng
Wangjiaying 1,907
三家村 Sānjiācūn
七甸 Qīdián
水塘 Shuǐtáng
Shuitang 2,026
Chenggong County
阳宗海 Yángzōnghǎi
凤鸣村 Fèngmíng Cūn
可保村 Kěbǎo Cūn
multiple tunnels[a]
水晶波 Shuǐjīngbō
multiple tunnels
江头村 Jiāngtóu Cūn
Jiangtou 1,540
multiple tunnels
宜良 Yíliáng
羊街子 Yángjiēzi
狗街子 Gǒujiēzi
滴水 Dīshuǐ
徐家渡 Xújiādù
Yiliang County
禄丰村 Lùfēng Cūn
糯租 Nuòzū
multiple tunnels[b]
大沙田 Dàshātián
西洱 Xī’ěr
Xi’er 1,160
小河口 Xiǎo Hékǒu
Xiao Hekou
盘溪 Pánxī
热水塘 Rèshuǐtáng
西扯邑 Xīchěyì
multiple tunnels[c]
拉里黑 Lālǐhēi
巡检司 Xúnjiǎnsī
灯笼山 Dēnglóngshān
小龙潭 Xiǎolóngtán
multiple tunnels[d]
打兔寨 Dǎtùzhài
十里村 Shílǐcūn
开远 Kāiyuǎn
multiple tunnels[e]
玉林山 Yùlínshān
大塔 Dàtǎ
Data 1,059
驻马哨 Zhùmǎshào
大庄 Dàzhuāng
草坝 Cǎobà
Caoba–Guanjiashan Railway
to Yuguopu
碧色寨 Bìsèzhài
Bisezhai 1,356
Gebishi Railway
600 mm gauge, to Shiping (until 1962)
黑龙潭 Hēilóngtán
Heilongtan 1,547
Col de Milati-Tunnel 1,700
芷村 Zhǐcūn
Zhicun 1,630
落水洞 Luòshuǐdòng
Luoshuidong 1,552
戈姑 Gēgū
Gegu 1,380
16 tunnels
Wujiazhai Bridge
over the Sicha River
倮姑 Luǒgū
Luogu 1,166
multiple tunnels[f]
亭塘 Tíngtáng
老街子 Lǎojiēzi
菠渡箐 Bōdùqìng
Boduqing 915
multiple tunnels[g]
冲庄 Chòngzhuāng
湾塘 Wāntáng
Wantang 619
白寨大桥 Báizhàidàqiáo
Baizhai Bridge
over a Namti tributary
白寨 Báizhài
Baizhai 388
multiple tunnels[h]
白鹤桥 Báihèqiáo
腊哈地 Làhādì
Lahadi 245
大树塘 Dàshùtáng
Hekou County
老范寨 Lǎofànzhài
马街 Mǎjiē
南溪 Nánxī
蚂蝗堡 Mǎhuángpù
山腰 Shānyāo
Kunming–Yuxi–Hekou Railway
河口 Hékǒu
Lào Cai 88
Pho Moi
Thai Nien
Pho Lu
Thai Van
Bao Ha
Lang Thip
Lang Key
Trai Hutt
Dong Cuong
Mo Ha
Trai Nhoi
Ngoi Hop
Dao Thinh
Co Phuc
Yên Bái
Van Phu
Duan Thuong
Am Thuong
Cho Don
Vinh Chien
Vu Yen
Than Bà
Hieu Lè
Chi Chu
Phú Thọ
Ha Thach
Tien Kien
Phu Duc
Viet Tri
Lô River 295
Cai Hac
Bac Hat
Huong Lai
Cho Coi
Vinh Yen
Huong Canh
Thap Mieu
Thach Loi
Red River
Dong Do
Ha Dong
My Noi Thon
North–South Railway
to Văn Điển
start of dual gauge track
Hanoi–Quán Triều Railway
to Quán Triều
Dong Anh
Duc Noi
Xuan Kieu
Hanoi–Đồng Đăng Railway
to Đồng Đăng
North–South Railway
to Văn Điển
Yen Vien
Gia Lam
end of dual gauge track
Co Bi
Phu Thuy
Nhu Ouynh
Dinh Du
Lac Dao
Dong Xà
Xuan Dao
Cam Giang
narrow gauge line
to Phu-Ninh-Giang
An Dien
Cao Xa
Thai Binh 380
Hải Dương
Tien Trung
Song Lai Vu 120
Lai Khé
Pham Xa
Cho Gioi
Phu Thai
Cho Phi
Du Nghia
Cho Ho
Vat Cach Thuong
Thuong Ly
Hai Phong Market
Som Tam Bac 90
Hai Phong
Hải Phòng Harbour


  1. ^ 13 tunnels between Kebao and Yiliang.
  2. ^ 5 tunnels between Nuozu and Xi’er.
  3. ^ 6 tunnels between Xicheyi and Xunjiansi.
  4. ^ 4 tunnels between Xiaolongtan and Kaiyuan.
  5. ^ 11 tunnels between Kaiyuan and Dazhuang.
  6. ^ 27 tunnels between Luogu and Boduqing.
  7. ^ 4 tunnels between Boduqing and Wantang.
  8. ^ 6 tunnels between Baizhai and Lahadi.


  1. ^ Nami-Ti Railway Bridge
  2. ^ a b c Rousseau, Jean-François (June 2014). "An Imperial Railway Failure: The Indochina-Yunnan Railway, 1898-1941". Journal of Transport History. 35 (1) – via Questia. (Subscription required (help)). 
  3. ^ Whates, H. (1901), The Politician's Handbook, Vacher & Sons, p. 146 
  4. ^ Davis, Clarence B.; Wilburn, Kenneth E., Jr; Robinson, Ronald E. (1991). "Railway Imperialism in China, 1895–1939". Railway Imperialism. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. p. 159. ISBN 9780313259661. Retrieved 11 August 2015 – via Questia. (Subscription required (help)). 
  5. ^ A Picture Album of Steam Locomotives in China, 1876 - 2001. China Rail Publishing House. ISBN 7-113-04147-7. 
  6. ^ Middleton, William D. (2000), Yet There Isn't a Train I Wouldn't Take: Railway Journeys, Railroads Past and Present Series, Indiana University Press, p. 189, ISBN 0253336996 
  7. ^ "This Train Beats Walking (Sometimes)" New York Times, 2000-12-03
  8. ^ a b c 滇越铁路徒步第一程(昆明——宜良) (A walk along the Kunming-Vietnam Railway. Part 1: Kunming-Chenggong)
  9. ^ a b c The rail runs through it. Straits Times, 23 August 2008
  10. ^ a b Li Liang, A Hundred Years on the Platform: Notes on Yunnan-Vietnam Railway. (Based on a trip report in the late 2006).
  11. ^ Schedule posted in Kunming North Station, effective 2015-05-27
  12. ^ a b 昆明铁路局修竣63辆米轨平车投入国际联运, 2015-05-04 
  13. ^ a b "上半年中越米轨铁路国际联运增长106.9% (The first six months' international freight volume on the meter-gauge China-Vietnam railway has increased by 106.9% [compared to the previous year])", 新华云南 (Xinhua Yunnan), 2016-08-04 
  14. ^ Yunnan’s First Fertilizer Train Bounded for Vietnam, 2015-03-19 
  15. ^ a b c d e 胡, 晓蓉 (Hu Xiaorong); 张, 伟明 (Zhang Weiming) (2017-04-04), "中越米轨铁路国际联运运量持续攀升 (The volume of international shipments on the China-Vietnam meter-gauge railway continues to climb)", 云南日报 (Yunnan Ribao) 
  16. ^ a b c Lu, Hua (陆华); Guo, Weina (郭薇娜) (2015-04-24), 昆明铁路局:国际铁路联运开启云南货运新篇章 (Kunming Railway Bureau: An international railway link opens a new chapter in Yunnan's freigh transportation) 
  17. ^ a b c Matthew Hartzell, Yuxi-Mengzi: China's newest railway
  18. ^ Hekou North schedule (in Chinese)
  19. ^ Wang, Na (王娜) (2016-12-05), 昆明准轨米轨铁路十字路口世界唯一 (World's only grade crossing of a standard-gauge and meter-gauge railways in Kunming)  (Note: While this crossing may be unique for China, level crossings between standard-gauge and meter-gauge tracks can in fact be seen elsewhere in the world, e.g. in northeastern Vietnam, where both gauges are in use).
  20. ^ Book Review: Fan Wen’s "Bisezhai Station" (碧色寨)
  21. ^ Hulot, Frédéric, Les chemins de fer de la France d'outre-mer, 1: L'Indochine – Le Yunnan, Saint-Laurent-du-Var 1990, pp. 28, 39, ISBN 2-906984-05-1 
  22. ^ Schmidt, Florian (1989), "Vietnam. Eisenbahn zwischen Mekong und Rotem Fluss", Dampf und Reise / Überseeische Eisenbahnen (6): 9, 18 

External links[edit]