Laos-China railway suffers lengthy delays due to heavy rains during storm

Angry passengers want the company to explain the long stoppages.
A high-speed train traveling on the Laos-China Railway passes over elevated tracks in Laos an undated photo.

Two trains traveling on the new Laos-China high-speed railway experienced lengthy and unexpected weather-related delays this week in Laos, with one train taking eight hours to travel between the historic town of Luang Prabang and the capital Vientiane, about five times longer than usual, passengers said.

A centerpiece of China’s Belt and Road Initiative of state-led lending for infrastructure projects to tie countries across Asia to China, the railway began transporting passengers in December, running between Kunming in Yunnan province and Vientiane.

The Lao section of the railway handles an average of two trains each way daily, covering 254 miles and 10 passenger rail stations from Boten on the Chinese border to the Lao capital.

The two trains on Monday were slow and experienced several delays, stopping for one to two hours at different spots during a journey that normally takes one hour and 40 minutes, passengers said.

The one train departed Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, at 1:30 p.m. and arrived at its destination at 9:30 p.m. with angry passengers complaining about a lack of food and water onboard.

A train attendant said the delay was due to heavy rain amid a storm, an unusual occurrence in March during the country’s dry season.

“The cause was the storm and the heavy rain that technically overwhelmed the capacity of the train,” he said. “We have to stop to see if there is any danger or risk when it’s raining hard.”

One passenger, who did not provide a name, said that a train attendant had informed travelers that a powerful storm was coming, and that the train could not proceed.

Another passenger said the train stopped and restarted at lengthy intervals lasting more than an hour.

“We arrived at the capital at 9:30 p.m.,” he said. “There was no food, and passengers were not allowed to get off. Nothing was available, no food, no water. The train got stuck for too long, and we were hungry.”

The traveler said he did not want compensation from the railway operator for the delay, but rather an explanation and an improvement in service.

“The train should have water or snacks for sale,” he said.

A woman who was concerned about her son who was the train told RFA that she also wanted information about the lengthy delay.

“I want to see a press release or a statement issued by the company,” she said. “This is a serious matter because it’s about the confidence of the public.”

“For the elderly or for those who have some medical condition, the lack of food and water might cause loss of life or worsen their illness,” she said, but added that it appeared as though the railway company was not responsible for the incident.

“I don’t blame the company because when the train took off in Luang Prabang city, light rain had already begun,” said another Lao passenger.

A Laotian who traveled the same day in the opposite direction told RFA that his train also experienced delays due to the storm, departing Vientiane at 4 p.m. and arrived in Luang Prabang at 9 p.m.

On Facebook, a previous train passenger said that travel delays within Laos were nothing new.

“This is not the first time that the train has been stuck; it’s happened several times before without any reason [given],” he wrote.

RFA could not verify whether earlier passenger trains had experienced unaccounted-for delays.

The China-Laos Railway Company Ltd. did not provide online information about the delays.

On Tuesday, the company posted on Facebook a notice to passengers that train C84 from Vientiane to Luang Prabang would be temporarily suspended between March 9 and 10 due to the necessity to exchange railway staff.

Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.


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