The Pan-Asian Railway is under construction. One of the main topics discussed in Laos with the Thai Rail Transport Department representatives was the development of the Thailand-China railway. The first phase of the construction is scheduled to be completed by 2026. The new rail route from China to Thailand via Laos will cut transportation costs between the three countries by up to 50% in the coming years.
Development of the Thailand-China railway
Rail freight is an important way for Thai products to enter the Chinese market, which is an alternative to sea freight. The Thailand-China railway development will primarily benefit Thai exporters in industries such as food (fresh fruit, processed food) and electrical and electronic devices (transformers, computers, printed circuit boards). It is estimated that the volume of Thai exports to China by rail in 2022 amounted to USD 61 million, which is more than 5% of the total exports from Thailand to China.
The high-speed rail project between China and Thailand, as a part of the Belt and Road Initiative, has been running since 2014. The rail link will go from Bangkok via Vientiane (the capital city of Laos) to the Chinese cities of Yuxi and Kunming. Ultimately, the pan-Asian railway network is to cover not only Thailand, Laos, and China but also Singapore, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam, and Malaysia. Within a year of the opening of the China-Laos railway, it transported 8.5 million passengers and shipped 11.2 million tons of cargo.
The biggest problem of the China-Thailand rail link is the different track gauges (meter gauge in Thailand and standard 1435 mm in China). As a result, trains have to be reloaded at the border station, which increases the total transportation time and generates additional costs.
The first phase of the China-Thailand railway line connecting Bangkok and the northeastern part of the country, Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat), is scheduled to be completed in 2026 despite the delays. It has been under construction since 2017. The route will be 253 km and cost approximately USD 5.4 billion. The completion of the project’s second phase, which will connect Korat with the northern province of Nong Khai and connect Thailand to the China-Laos route, is expected to take four years. This railway link will be put into service in 2028. The Nakhon Ratchasima-Nong Khai railway route is expected to be 356 km long and cost over USD 9.1 billion. The project is scheduled to be completed in mid-2029.
The completed Thailand-China railway will make it possible to send goods by rail freight from Thailand via China to Europe.