The Kumming to Singapore train line has been a long time in the making; the British and French colonial authorities agreed on the idea in 1900. World War II, the break up of the British and French overseas empires and other regional conflicts have all been been a barrier to the creation of a continuous railway line linking Kumming in China to Singapore. The good news for railway enthusiasts, and anyone else with a stake in the economic development of South East Asia, is that the plan has been revived and the participating nations are getting on with the task of creating a Pan Asia Railway Network.
The Trans Asian Railway
The Pan Asian Railway Network is itself part of wider plan formulated in the 1950s, but not formalised until 2006 under the auspices of the United Nations, to create a Trans Asian Railway (TAR) linking Europe to Asian and promoting better economic and social integration of the two continents. The Pan Asian Railway Network is one of four routes which will form the Trans Asian Railway. The four routes are:
- Northern Corridor: Linking Germany to the Eastern Edge of Russia. Much of this route is complete as it follows roughly the same track as the Trans-Siberian Railway.
- Southern Corridor: Linking Turkey to Thailand via Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and Myanmar.
- North-South Corridor: Linking Helsinki in Finland to the Iranian sea port of Bandar Abbas
- Pan Asian Railway Network: Linking Kumming to Singapore.
Pan Asian Railway Network: Three Routes
Originally the plan had been for there to be single route from Kumming to Singapore. However, under the direction of ASEAN (South East Asia’s equivalent to the European Union) the proposed railway network has been expanded to 3 routes with the intention of benefiting all 7 of the member countries of ASEAN which on the mainland of Asia: Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and Singapore.
The three planned routes are:
- Eastern Route: Running via China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia onto Singapore.
- Central Route: Running via China, Laos, Thailand, and Malaysia onto Singapore.
- Western Route: Running via China, Myanmar, and Malaysia onto Singapore.
Progress of the Pan Asian Railway Network
The creation of a continuous Kumming to Singapore route is an ongoing process. From the map above it looks as though the network is nearly complete with a only a few relatively short stretches of railway line to build. However, the reality is that there remains a number of difficult challenges ahead:
Challenging Landscape: The sections of the route to be completed between Thailand and Myanmar, and Laos and China, are mountainous and building a railway track will involve the construction of several hundred bridges and tunnels, not to mention clearance of an undetermined number of unexploded bombs in Laos (dropped by the Americans around the time of the Vietnam War).
Different Railway Gauges: In Thailand and Malaysia railways run on a 1 metre gauge. However, in some parts of China, and in Vietnam and Laos, the trains run on the standard gauge track of 1.435 metres. Until remedied this means the same trains can’t do the whole journey and passenger and goods will need to be transferred between rolling stock adding delays and additional costs.
Condition of the Existing Track: In Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Cambodia much of the existing track will not allow the use of high speed trains, partly because the track is in a poor condition and partly because it is single track making progress of the train at times very slow. In Cambodia the situation is even worse with much of the existing track built by the French colonial authority having been out of use for decades, although part of the line has recently been brought back into service.
Environmental and Social Concerns: In Laos and Myanmar the creation of the new railway track has been opposed by ethnic groups along the route who are concerned about the affect it will have on their way of life and the land which they farm and live on. Addressing these concerns is going to be as challenging as building the new track itself.
Pan Asian Railway Network News: Follow the Journey as it unfolds
At Thailand Trains we will keep you posted on all the latest news as the various parts of the railway network take shape across 7 ASEAN countries and in Southern China. Join of our Facebook page and we will let you know as soon as new information becomes available about the Pan Asian Railway Network and other news about train services in Thailand and beyond.