Resisting risks from the COVID-19 Pandemic, the Chinese & Lao Engineers and Workers are working around the clock to extend the China-Laos Railway North to the Border.

In Lao Capital Vientiane, the early May’s scorching sun has not dispersed the risks of the pandemic, while the Chinese and Lao railway builders on the outskirts of the city have been sweating like bulls, struggling to lay rails towards China, as to ensure the completion on time.

“I have driven trains travelling around China, but this is the first time I have driven a train abroad. The tracks are laid well, and it is much comfortable to run on them,” 31 year old Chinese Train Driver Chen Jian said on Thursday on an engineering train carrying track ballasts to the construction site.

Chen is working for the China Railway No. 2 Engineering Group (CREC-2) which is undertaking all the railing work of the China-Laos railway.

With its first 500 meter long Rail steadily laid on the subgrade in Vientiane, the CREC-2 kicked off its track laying work on March 27. Till early May, the Chinese company has completed over 30 kilometres’ track laying, and Chen has become the first train driver to run on the first modern advanced Railway in Laos.

“It’s hot in the driving room of the Dongfeng 4B diesel locomotive. It can be really steaming without air conditioning,” when asked his feeling on the railway, Chen smiled and said.

Ren Chengneng has been in Laos for nine months and is serving as the general technical manager of the railway’s railing. This may be his last railway construction mission before his retirement, and the reporter can feel his enthusiasm for the job when taking the train with him.

He said that he is happy to be able to participate in the Belt & Road Initiative construction, and in the construction of the China-Laos Railway at the end of his career. However, he has some concerns about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, since many Chinese staff can not return to their posts in Laos and some local staff have to stay at home because of the lockdown in Laos.

“First of all, we must ensure the health and working status of our available staff. We have actively carried out epidemic prevention in Laos, and formed emergency medical teams along the railway to handle Emergency treatment and coordinate epidemic prevention materials distribution,” Lei Chao, Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) working committee at the CREC-2 Railing base in Vientiane told reporters on Thursday.

“At present, we are short of almost half of the personnel. Everyone here is working in multiple roles.”

“In order to maintain the current construction pace along the China-Laos Railway, we are comprehensively implementing the control measures to ensure progress, quality and safety,” Hu Bin, the CREC-2 Railing Project Manager in Vientiane, said.

He said that almost half of his Chinese Management and technical staff have been working on the frontline and working overtime. “We are also recruiting newly graduated students from Lao universities to our team.”

With the efforts made, the Chinese engineering company has raised its track laying pace from two kilometres per three days at the beginning to one kilometre each day, and created favourable conditions for the timely opening of the entire China-Laos Railway.

“We are extending the railway northward and extending to China. The closer we are to our homeland, the more excited we are,” Lei said.

He said the Lao government has offered a lot of convenience to the railway construction. “This railway can be built and opened on time. We have this confidence.”

According to Laos-China Railway Co., Ltd., a joint venture based in Vientiane in charge of the construction and future operation of the railway, after the occurrence of the COVID-19 infection in Laos, the participating units have implemented prevention and control measures, optimised construction organisation, scientifically allocated resources, and steadily promoted the project.

So far, the railway’s off-line bridges, tunnels, roadbeds and other civil engineering work have entered the final stage, and the on-line track, power, communication signal, mechanical and electrical engineering, and station building have been fully launched.

The 414 km railway, with 198 km tunnels and 62 km bridges, will run from the Boten border gate in Northern Laos, bordering China, to Vientiane with an operating speed of 160 km per hour.

The electrified passenger and cargo railway is built with the full application of Chinese management and technical standards. The Project started in December 2016 and is scheduled to be completed and open to traffic in December 2021.