Somsana Ratsaphong, CEO of the Lao Railway Authority (LRA), provides detailed insight into the launch of the countries first rail line and future plans for expansion in the country.
On 5 March 2005 the government of Lao signed an agreement of financial assistance with the Thai government, to provide $US4.7 million towards the construction of the first phase of the Lao
Railway. The first line ran to Thanaleng Station, with a total length of 3.5 km. The construction project began in October 2006 and was completed by April 2008.
The second phase of the project will be a 2km extension to Thanaleng Station and the construction of a new container yard, on the Lao side of the line. In 2005 a survey and detailed study was undertaken by Team Consultant Group from Thailand.
The construction of the container yard and the line extension will be funded with funds provided by the Thai ‘Neighbourhing Countries Economic Development Cooperation Agency (NEDA). The project will begin before the end of the year, with 30% of NEDA funds provided as a grant and 70% as a loan.
At present the technology used on the line is very basic. The stationmaster at Nongkhai is responsible for the security of trains heading to Vientiane. A block system is currently in operation. The signalling system is currently operated by manual points and hand signals. The telecommunications system is also very basic, with an FM mobile radio providing the communication for train operations.
As part of the current upgrade plans, a Computer Based Interlocking (CBI) system will be introduced in the station masters office. This system will control the signal and wayside equipment.
The block system will also be upgraded to a Semi Automatic Block system. The Semi Automatic Block system will be automatically set up once the route is set up at the control panel for the proceeding station. The train will run to the next station and when it arrives the block will be released by the signalman. This basic system will prevent crashes, even in the case of a car being left between stations.
A fixed signal system will also be introdued on the right hand side of the track. The system will follow the same rules and regulations as the State Railways of Thailand, with an LED signal.
An electrical points machine will also be put into operation. The system will be trailable, meaning that the train can run through the turnouts in either direction without causing damage. The machine can also be operated manually by using the crank, if the electricity is not functioning.
Lao Railways will also be introducign a back up power supply for signalling, which will be a diesel generated UPS (Uninterruptable power suply). This is a very important component as automatic signalling is introduced on the line.
Finally, level rossing technology will be introduced at Thanaleng to ensure greater road and rail safety. The container yard will have manual operated points in conjunction with hand signals, to ensure operational flexibility.