The Inauguration of a Pioneering Railway Link between Thailand and Laos

March 5, 2009

A short but pivotal extension of the Northeastern Line of the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) was opened between the line’s station in Nong Khai City in northeastern Thailand and – via the First Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge over the Mekong River – the newly built Thanaleng station in the village of Dongphosy in northwestern Laos. This 2.2-mile (3.5-kilometer) extension of SRT constitutes an important transportation link between those Southeast Asian countries, especially since the Dongphosy Station is no more than 20 miles (32.2 kilometers) from Laos’s capital city of Vientiane. The opening of the extension also marked the first international rail connection for Laos.

The stage was set for this extension in 2004, when the Thai and Lao governments signed an agreement for SRT to develop the link. Construction on the link began in 2007, with test trains first run on that newest segment of the Northeastern Line the following year. Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand officially inaugurated the extension on March 5, 2009, at the Nong Khai station. The week before that opening ceremony, the British daily newspaper Guardian published freelance travel writer Andrew Spooner’s article about the Thai-Lao rail extension and its significance.

“Next week, Laos will be connected to the outside world for the first time by rail when a new link opens across the Mekong River to Thailand,” noted Spooner. “At the moment, [the facility at Thanaleng] is just a bright, shiny railway station; there is not much in the way of a village or town or anything else here. Undoubtedly, with the advent of the railway age, this will change as [the station] will become the preferred jump-off point for visitors to Vientiane, roughly 20 miles [32.2 kilometers] up the Mekong – travelers will likely take a tuk-tuk [a type of taxi] or bus for the short hop into the Laos capital.” (The above 2014 photo features a train being prepared to depart the Thanaleng station for the Nong Khai station.)

The extension was first used only for transporting passengers between both countries. In 2019, however, the Thai and Lao governments formally launched freight train service on that portion of the line.

Photo Credit: shankar (licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en)

Additional information on the 2009 opening of the Thai-Lao extension of the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) is available at https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2009/feb/26/first-train-laos-thailand-rail

For more information on the SRT’s Northeastern Line, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northeastern_Line_(Thailand)

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