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A train on a bridge of the 141-kilometer Yuxi-Mengzi Railway, the China part of the Pan-Asia Railway linking China with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Because of the special geographical conditions, the construction team behind the Yuxi-Mengzi line was confronted with many challenges. More than half of the railway, 77 km, was built on bridges and through tunnels. The new line will ensure faster speed and safer trips that sharply reduce the cost of transportation in the region. [Photo by WANG JIANYUN / FOR CHINA DAILY]
Construction was a hugely complex affair taking years, say engineers
Pomegranate grower Ma Shan was pleased to see the train arriving at Mengzi, the capital city of the Honghe Hani and Yi autonomous prefecture in southern Yunnan province.
On Feb 23, a train pulled out of Kunming, passed through the city of Yuxi and proceeded to the southern Yunnan city for the first time. Its successful arrival marked the launch of the new Yuxi-Mengzi Railway.
In the near future, the train is expected to travel south from Mengzi, pass through nearby estuary ports and on to the Pacific Ocean, completing its historic journey in the island nation of Singapore. As such it will form the main transportation artery between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a geo-political and economic organization of 10 countries located in Southeast Asia, comprising Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.
The operation of the Yuxi-Mengzi Railway "shortens the route by more than two hours from my town to the provincial capital of Kunming", Ma said.
"It will not only save me time but also cost less in shipping, which is more important for the fruit. We expect our income to increase this year," he said.
The Yuxi-Mengzi Railway, which opened at the end of last month, was considered a significant move by the Yunnan provincial government to facilitate local industries such as fruit-growing. As part of a bigger picture, the railway constitutes what will become an indispensable part of the eastern line of Pan-Asia Railways, a crucial connection between Southwest China and the economies of Southeast Asia.
At the fifth ASEAN summit in December 1995, former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad proposed building a Pan-Asia Railway through the Malay Peninsula, visiting Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia and eventually reaching Kunming in China. The initiative immediately received recognition from the summit attendees and the Chinese government. In September 2006, the ASEAN countries reached a consensus to speed up the construction of the Pan-Asia Railway that will be completed in 2015.
The plan was to have three lines - in the east, the middle and the west. The east line would operate between Kunming, Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, Bangkok in Thailand, Phnom Penh in Cambodia, Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi in Vietnam and Singapore.
When the last part in China is completed, between Mengzi and Hekou county in Honghe, faster trains will head south all the way to Singapore, through the biggest free-trade zone in the world. Experts say the Yuxi-Mengzi railway will help strengthen Yunnan's status as a frontier region open to the ASEAN economies.
As early as April 12, 1910, one loud but lingering whistle pierced the air over Kunming, declaring the operation of the Vietnam Railway. Export cargos from Yunnan were carried on the trains to as far as Hai Phong in Vietnam and then shipped to France.
The prosperous export trade brought Kunming the first customs and the first post office in Yunnan. The provincial capital then ascended to become one of the most influential cities in China. However, people had to endure trains that "were slower than cars". Things changed fundamentally in February this year when a fresh long beep resounded through Honghe declaring the official operation of the modern Yuxi-Mengzi Railway.
Now, as the railway starts operations and the Mengzi-Hekou link is under construction, Yunnan will have another historic opportunity to deepen exchanges with its neighbors.