Yunnan's newest railroad opened this week to test traffic, indicating work is all but finished following more than five years of slow and steady construction. Although more of an extension than a dedicated line, the Mengzi-Hekou Railway Line (蒙河铁路) will soon allow freight and passenger traffic from Kunming to travel uninterrupted to an international border.
The new section of track runs for 142 kilometers through Honghe Hani and Yi Autonomous Prefecture and connects the city of Mengzi (蒙自) to Hekou (河口) and its busy border crossing. Passengers on this line can expect a one-way trip in either direction to last roughly 90 minutes and speeds on the few straight stretches to reach 100 kilometers per hour.
The line completes almost six years of construction aimed at connecting Kunming to Hekou by rail. When passenger tickets go on sale —presumably before the new year — travelers will be able to ride from Kunming to the Vietnam border in six and a half hours. In the future, the modern railway is expected enhance tourism and commerce in southern Yunnan and one day extend all the way to Hanoi.
The railway linking the Spring City to one of the province's most important and lucrative border towns has cost an estimated 6.93 billion yuan (US$1.12 billion) since construction began in 2009. Unlike many of the giant and costly infrastructure projects currently underway in Yunnan, the Mengzi-Hekou project appears to have beaten a 2016 deadline by more than a year.
Part of a much larger endeavor, the Mengzi-Hekou section is simply one step towards the slow realization of China's plan to connect Kunming by rail with Southeast Asian capitals. Known as the Trans-Asian Railway (泛亚铁路), the scheme involves high-speed trunk lines heading to Hanoi as well as the Kunming-Laos-Thailand Line and the Kunming-Ruili-Myanmar Line.
Those plans will not be completely realized for years to come, as exemplified by the state of railways in northern Vietnam. Hekou sits across the Honghe River from the Vietnamese city of Lào Cai, which does indeed have railway service to Hanoi. However, those tracks are narrow gauge, built more than a century ago, and are completely incompatible with more modern trains traveling inside China.
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