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 used 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.


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 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) 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) 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 at the two countries' border was destroyed, and the trade between China and Vietnam came to a halt for a period of some years.[6]

Gebishi Railway[edit]

Main article: Gebishi Railway

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]

Twice-a-week cross-border passenger service (involving the second-class passengers having 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) operated as late as 2000, but 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]

Freight service still continues to operate throughout the Kunming–Hekou Railway.[9] Among important cargo types moved internationally on this line are chemical fertilizers.[11]

On the Vietnamese side, passenger trains continue to run 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 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.[12] 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.[12]

The Mengzi-Hekou section was opened in December 2014 as well; regular passenger service started between Hekou North and Kunming, with some trains continuing to Dali.[13]

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).[12]

A short meter-gauge connector line has been constructed between the Hekou North 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.

In fiction[edit]

  • Bisezhai Station (碧色寨) by Fan Wen (范稳).[14]

See also[edit]


  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. ^ 昆明铁路局修竣63辆米轨平车投入国际联运, 2015-05-04
  12. ^ a b c Matthew Hartzell, Yuxi-Mengzi: China's newest railway
  13. ^ Hekou North schedule (Chinese)
  14. ^ Book Review: Fan Wen’s "Bisezhai Station" (碧色寨)

External links[edit]