Rising theft of cables and bolts along the Laos-China railway

Police arrested 71 people last year for stealing the equipment – probably to raise cash.
By RFA Lao
Rising theft of cables and bolts along the Laos-China railway The Laos-China railway passes near a village in Vang Vieng district, Vientiane province, September 2023.

The new Laos-China railway is hiring more security guards at train stations after a rise in thefts of electrical cables, bolts and other equipment along the route, two employees of a private security company told Radio Free Asia.

The cables and bolts are sold to scrap metal businesses by people looking for an easy way to raise cash, a villager who lives close to the railway told RFA.

It’s widely believed that many of the thieves are addicted to drugs, the villager said. But even with extra security guards and soldiers watching the rail line and station, the thieves still find a way, he said.

“I always hear from a village chief that it is prohibited for people – especially teenagers – to hangout near the Laos-China railway,” he said. 

Last year, police arrested 71 people along the railway route on theft charges – an increase from the 52 arrests made in 2022, authorities said.

A cargo train makes its way down the Laos-China railway in Vang Vieng district, Vientiane province, September 2023. (RFA)

The US$6 billion railway connecting Vientiane with Kunming in China’s Yunnan province opened in December 2021. It passes through 10 stations in Laos – including the major tourist draw of Luang Prabang – and was aimed at boosting the economy through tourism, freight transport and agriculture trade.

Some villagers have benefited from economic development along the route, but the project has been criticized for displacing several thousand farmers from their land. 

Diligent team players needed

The thefts have created a demand for more security guards at each station, a security service company employee said.

“Our employees are deployed in each railway station and it seems like there is a high need to have more guards in each of the stations,” the employee said.

Another security service employee said they are actively seeking applicants and plan to send the new recruits to each of the 10 stations.

An empty stretch of the Laos-China railway is seen in Vang Vieng district, Vientiane province, September 2023. (RFA)

Guards will be expected to work either 4 p.m. to midnight or from midnight until 8 a.m., a railway worker at Boten station near the Chinese border said.

“It doesn’t require a high education background,” the railway worker said. “Anyone applying for the security job just needs to be diligent and have no problems working in a team.”

Additionally, scrap metal operators are being more careful about what they purchase for fear they also could face criminal charges or heavy fines, the operator of a scrap metal business told RFA. It’s illegal to buy scrap metal that has been stolen from state-owned entities or properties. 

Attempts to contact the Department of Railway Police and the Ministry of Public Security to ask for more details on the thefts were unsuccessful.

Translated by Phouvong. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.


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