Feb. 16, 2017, 12:17 p.m.
Plans for a ASEAN Railway network are beginning to solidify, with China pushing the long-stalled project into action in recent news and signing an agreement with the Laotian government. If this railway ultimately extends to Phnom Penh, the real estate market should certainly see benefits.
The ASEAN Railway plan, however, is not a new story. As long ago as 1995, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations leaders first proposed constructing a region wide railway because it seemed the best alternative to unsuitable road connections which are currently linking the region. Faced with wide disagreements between Southeast Asian nations over how to proceed to actually implementing the ASEAN Railway plan, and a shortage of funds, however, the railway talk soon subsided to silence.
But then entered China; a country which has long prided itself on pushing through fantastical ideas to completion. With grand visions of Chinese engineered trains moving the region forward, economically and politically, recent reports confirm that China is now willing to come to the party with the money and expertise to drive the project ASEAN Railway to a more serious planning stage.
"The length of China's high-speed railways in operation has reached 16,000km, accounting for more than 60% of the world's total,"
said Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in his March 5 opening speech to this year's session of the National People's Congress. After this announcement, Li followed by saying that China would now step up efforts to expand rail links abroad.
It is no secret that an ASEAN Railway is what Li had in mind by this expansion. Since becoming Chinese premier in 2013, Li has continuously visited the region and, while in the various nations’ ears, has served as an unofficial salesman for Chinese railway businesses.
Li has suggested that these railway businesses are well-positioned, and now well-experience, to take advantage of new opportunities to the south of China. State-owned China CNR and CSR are the world's two biggest railway makers as measured by sales, and recently have agreed to merge. These Chinese state-run companies enjoy many cost advantages in their railway operations - as they are able to handle everything from initial railroad placement and design, right through to track-laying, station construction and full-system installation.
Chinese companies are suggesting that they can accomplish all these tasks at 50 to 66 percent less cost than Japanese, U.S. and European rail rivals. For Southeast Asian countries with budgeting priorities, China looks like a worthy partner for any ASEAN Railway projects.
Early this month, China and Laos reached agreement to build a 40-billion yuan ($6.28 billion), 418-kilometer railway from Kunming, the capital of southwestern China’s Yunnan province, to Vientiane, Laos capital, according to the official China Economic Herald report that followed a signing ceremony. The ceremony was attended by the National Development and Reform Commission, China Railway Corporation, and Export-Import Bank of China.
According to Chinese media, China will cover 70 percent of the necessary investment for the new line, while Laos will be responsible for the remainder. Once in operation, the railway will be Laos’ longest and fastest yet, with an average speed of 160 kilometers per hour and 60 percent of the line being bridges and tunnels. The next step for China’s Silk Road railway is yet to be seen, and the world waits to see whether a full-scale ASEAN Railway will become a reality.