In a recent interview with Mr. Pichet Kunnathamrak, the Director-General of the Department of Rail Transport (DRT), it was revealed that a pivotal discussion is scheduled for February 6, 2024. The DRT, in collaboration with the State Railway of Thailand (SRT), will engage in talks with the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (LPDR) and relevant agencies. The focus of these deliberations is to formulate regulations for the upcoming railway operation between Thailand and LPDR, particularly the Tha Nalaeng-Vientiane (Sakhwad) section, spanning 7.5 kilometers—a significant extension of the Nong Khai-Tha Nalaeng railway.
Following preliminary discussions, there are plans to commence trial runs from Nong Khai to Vientiane (Sakhwad), covering a distance of 13 kilometers, in February 2024 (without public access). Subsequently, the official operation is expected to launch in April 2024, with an estimated passenger fare ranging from 60 to 70 Thai Baht, and a travel time of approximately 20 minutes.
Mr. Pichet emphasized the ongoing considerations regarding immigration procedures for passengers crossing from Thailand to Vientiane (Sakhwad), requiring conclusive discussions. To streamline border crossings, a single-entry immigration stamp is being proposed at either Nong Khai or Vientiane (Sakhwad), easing the process for travelers. Additionally, a preliminary plan involves replacing Thai train operators with their LPDR counterparts at Nong Khai station, minimizing legal complications in case of accidents or incidents on the LPDR side.
The DRT has already provided theoretical and practical training to nine LPDR train operators, ensuring a smooth transition during the Nong Khai-Vientiane (Sakhwad) route. This proactive approach is crucial in preventing legal entanglements for Thai operators in the event of any incidents on LPDR territory.
Expanding the rail service to Vientiane (Sakhwad) holds promises for both Thai citizens and international tourists, offering a convenient alternative for travel from Bangkok to Vientiane (Sakhwad). Current services from Bangkok to Nong Khai, operating six daily round trips, are expected to shift to Bangkok-Vientiane (Sakhwad), initially providing two daily round trips on all three classes. Simultaneously, local services from Nong Khai to Tha Nalaeng, a 4-round trip daily service, will be rerouted to Nong Khai-Vientiane (Sakhwad).
The development aligns with Thailand’s broader aim to improve transportation infrastructure, facilitating seamless connectivity between the two nations. Furthermore, once the railway extends to Vientiane (Sakhwad), travelers arriving at the station can conveniently access various public transportation services provided by LPDR, such as vans, three-wheeled vehicles, and taxis, for a smooth journey into the heart of Vientiane city, situated approximately 7-9 kilometers away. Vientiane, with its iconic Victory Gate, stands as a significant tourist attraction and a central hub within the LPDR capital.
Currently, the existing Bangkok-Nong Khai railway, covering a distance of 614 kilometers, offers six daily round trips with varying travel times and passenger classes. The expansion to Vientiane (Sakhwad) promises to enhance regional connectivity, making rail travel an even more accessible and efficient mode of transportation.