Vientiane–Boten Railway

The Boten–Vientiane railway (often referred to as the China–Laos railway) is a 414 kilometres (257 mi) 1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 instandard gauge electrified railway under construction in Laos, between the capital Vientiane and the small town of Boten on the border with China. It is the most expensive and largest project ever to be constructed in Laos.

In the north the line will be connected to the Chinese rail system in Mohan, through the Yuxi–Mohan railway. In the south it meets the existing metre-gauge railway in Thanaleng, linking it via Nong Khai in Thailand to Bangkok. A high-speed, standard gauge extension to Bangkok is also under construction – and scheduled for completion in 2028. When finished, the Boten–Vientiane railway will form an important part of the Kunming–Singapore railway.

China aims to build a 5,500-km trans-Asia railway, which begins in Yunnan’s provincial capital Kunming and travels through Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Malaysia, before ending in Singapore, according to Ding He, a deputy project manager for the China–Laos railway project. The Boten–Vientiane railway is part of the Belt and Road Initiative.


Laos is the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia, which gives it a competitive disadvantage in trade. During the French rule, the French failed to materialize a possible plan to build a railway in Laos, with only the 7 km Don Det–Don Khon railway being completed. A railway link through Laos would greatly reduce cargo transit times and transportation costs between Laos and China. The railway would also be a link in the Kunming–Singapore railway network, as well as a program within the One Belt One Road Initiative of China.

The railway is also expected to boost tourism, with passenger traffic to account for the majority of traffic on the line. The Thai province of Nong Khai is also expected to gain more visitors through the railway, as well as fruit exports from Thailand to China benefiting from reduced transportation costs.


The first talks about the railway linking Laos and China were in 2001, Laotian and Chinese politicians both confirmed the plans in 2009. Lao politician of Chinese descent Somsavat Lengsavad was reportedly the driving force behind the project on the Laotian side. After construction work worth US$1.2 billion was awarded to the China Railway Group in September 2015. After the corruption scandal of China’s minister of railways Liu Zhijun, the start of construction was delayed until early 2016.

Construction began at Luang Prabang on December 25, 2016. At the end of 2017, the construction phase was 20% completed, and in September 2019 progress was reported as 80% completed. Unexploded bombs that have been dropped during the Vietnam War will also be removed along the route.

As of June 2020, Chinese state media reported that the US$6 billion project was 90% done. Work crews started laying track in Laos in March 2020, five years after breaking ground. With all of the many dozen tunnels and bridges completed, service is set to start in December 2021. In April 2021 the northernmost section in Luang Namtha Province was 97% complete. Track laying of the last started section in Oudomxay Province, would be completed in May, leaving the project well on track for a 2021 opening. Track-laying was officially completed on October 12th, 2021. The first EMU was delivered to Vientiane on October 16th 2021, and the line is on track to open on 2 December 2021, coinciding with the 46th anniversary of the Lao PDR.

List of stations

There are 32 stations along Boten–Vientiane railway line, though only 20 stations are actually under construction, including 10 passenger stations and 10 cargo stations:

Station name Type
Boten Passenger station
Na Toey Passenger station – Major station
Na Moh Passenger station
Na Thong Cargo station
Mueang Xai Passenger station – Major station
Na Khok Cargo station
Mueang Nga Passenger station
Huay Han Cargo station
Luang Phrabang Passenger station – Major station
Xiang Ngoen Cargo station
Sala Phu Khun Cargo station
Mueang Kasi Passenger station
Ban Pha Daeng Cargo station
Vang Vieng Passenger station – Major station
Vang Khee Cargo station
Phone Hong Passenger station
Ban Saka Cargo station
Vientiane North Cargo station
Vientiane Station Passenger station – Major station
Vientiane South Cargo station
Thanaleng station Passenger station


The cost of the project is estimated at US$ 5.965 billion or RMB 37.425 billion. The railway is funded by 60% of debt financing (3.6 billion US$) from the Export-Import Bank of China and the remaining 40% (2.4 billion US$) is funded by a joint venture company between the two countries. China holds 70% of the stake of the company. Of the rest of the stake, Lao government disburses 250 million US$ from its national budget and borrows 480 million US$ further from the Export-Import Bank of China.

Debt trap concern

The cost of the railway has contributed to a significant increase in Lao debts to China. This has led to concern that Laos could fall into a Chinese debt trap or default on its debts. In 2019, the Lowy Institute estimated Laos’ debt to China at 45 percent of its GDP. In 2020, Fitch Ratings assigned Laos a ‘CCC’ credit rating, mentioning its excessive debt amount.


Forty-seven percent of the railway will be in 75 tunnels and 15% will pass over viaducts spread over 167 bridges.[13] There are 32 planned stations along the route. The final station would be Thanaleng station, not Vientiane Station. Xay Village in Xaythany District is to be the site of Vientiane Station, the largest station on the railway. The station will consist of four platforms with seven track lines and two additional platforms with three lines reserved. It is expected to connect with other railway lines planned for Laos. The station will accommodate up to 2,500 passengers with a total area of 14,543 square meters.

The railway is being built on a single track with passing loops electrified line to China’s Class I trunk railway standards, suitable for 160 km/h passenger and 120 km/h freight trains, making Laos the first country to connect to the Chinese railway network using Chinese technology.

Rolling stock

CR200J Fuxing higher-speed trainsets for passenger service, and HXD3CA locomotives for freight, will be used by Laos Railways on Boten-Vientiane railway.