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Yunnan beginning major rail expansion

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China is planning to invest more than 50 billion yuan (US$6.3 billion) in new railways that will increase connectivity between Kunming and cities in southern Yunnan by 2010, according to a Xinhua news report.

Aside from boosting tourism and trade between Kunming and southern Yunnan cities including Ruili and Mengzi, the new rail lines will also form the northernmost portion of the planned 5,500-km Trans-Asia Railway, which will link Kunming and Singapore via three rail lines passing through Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Malaysia.

Construction of the line that will eventually connect Kunming to Vietnamese capital Hanoi has already begun between Yuxi and Mengzi. The Asian Development Bank has recently approved a US$60 million loan to Vietnam to renovate the 285 km of railway connecting northern Hanoi to the Yunnan border at Hekou.

Preparations have begun for work on the other two lines, which will connect Yunnan to Myanmar and Laos via border towns Ruili and Mohan, respectively. The 366-km section from Dali to Ruili will cost around US$1.2 billion and is expected to be completed by 2010.

The railway will facilitate trade within the China-Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Free Trade Area, the first phase of which will be launched in 2010. By 2015, all members of ASEAN - which in addition to the Trans-Asia Railway countries also includes Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines - will have entered the 1.8 billion-person free trade area.

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