VIENTIANE (Xinhua) — The Chinese engineers on the China-Laos railway construction sites have been pulling out all the stops in their efforts to extend the railway in the northern Laos’ mountains and over the Mekong River amid the global COVID-19 pandemic.
At the northern end of the China-Laos railway, some 400 km north of Vientiane, the capital and largest city of Laos, the China Railway No. 5 Engineering Group (CREC-5) drilled through the Ban Konlouang Tunnel, a key bottleneck project of the China-Laos Railway on April 29, 43 days ahead of schedule.
With the completion of the 9,020-meter tunnel, the CREC-5 has bored all of its 10 tunnels, out of a total 75 on the railway in northern Laos, and has basically finished its offline engineering work.
Shang Weitao, a 26-year-old Chinese technician, is proud of the progress.
“After coming to Laos in early 2016, I was determined to make significant progress in the construction of the China-Laos Railway,” he said, adding that he was responsible for the technical management of the CREC-5 tunnel building, and formerly his team had drilled the 6,453.5-meter Boten Tunnel.
“After 735 days of hard work, on March 21 last year, we bored the first tunnel of more than 5,000 meters on the China-Laos railway, which was later rated as a quality project,” Shang said.
With the COVID-19 pandemic setting in, the Chinese engineering company are comprehensively implementing anti-viral prevention and control measures during the construction, to keep up with the planned timetable.
In the central section of the China-Laos Railway, Chinese engineers from CREC-8 on April 23 completed the T-beam setting of the Luang Prabang cross-Mekong River super major bridge, and finished all the beam installation.
The China-Laos Railway crosses the Mekong River twice to the north of the ancient Lao capital of Luang Prabang, some 230 km north of Vientiane. The continuous beam of the Luang Prabang bridge was completed in July 2019, seven months ahead of schedule, while the erecting of its T-beam began on April 9 this year.
“Ensuring the safety of workers’ health during the pandemic is the top priority, but the construction can not be stalled. We should simultaneously handle the virus prevention and project promotion,” Luo Jiang, the deputy manager of the CREC-8 beam division in Luang Prabang, told Xinhua.
The task of erecting the Luang Prabang Mekong River Bridge, with a total length of 1,458.9 meters, composed of 28 spans of T-beams and six spans of continuous beams, is viewed as among the most difficult and most technically complex challenges along the railway.
After more than three months of swift yet vigorous work and intensive high-pressure beam fixing, 35-year-old Luo found more grey hair on the head.
On a daily basis, he carefully inspects every corner of his work. “When standing on the Mekong River Bridge in Luang Prabang, I feel extremely determined. Even if the pandemic threatens, all I want is to carry on the Chinese engineers’ work with responsibility and pride,” Luo told Xinhua in early May.
The COVID-19 pandemic has, unavoidably disrupted the Chinese engineers’ pace of work. The closure of customs and the lockdown of towns and villages has created a drainage of laborers and a shortage of equipments, among other set backs.
“We are lacking in drivers, installers and civil engineers after the pandemic risks were felt in the country in March,” Li Qiang, the manager of PowerChina Sino-hydro Corp. Engineering Bureau 10 Co. Ltd. (Sinohydro 10), told Xinhua in May. “More than half of the local laborers left and went back to their villages.”
However, as the expression goes, “Time waits for no man.” With this in mind, at the critical moment, the Chinese management and technical staff further loaded their frenetic schedules, taking on the laboring work along with their own duties.
In the sweltering heat of March and April, with the temperature often exceeding 40 degrees centigrade in Laos, the Chinese team all went to the construction’s frontline near Vangvieng, some 160 km north of Vientiane.
Due to the unwavering efforts of all staff, the Sinohydro 10 rapidly made up for lost time. They, in less than a month, drove 52,032 bridge beam screws and installed more than 4,000 steel beams, helping to save more than two months’ construction work and produce over 1 million U.S. dollars in output.
At the southernmost end of the China-Laos Railway on the outskirts of the capital, with its first 500-meter-long rail steadily laid on the subgrade, the CREC-2 started its track laying work on March 27.
“The rail is the longest of its kind in Asia outside of China and it was also the first time the CYP500 track laying machine has been used in railway construction in Southeast Asia,” Hu Bin, the CREC-2 project manager told Xinhua.
He said his team is currently strictly handling the anti-pandemic efforts and making every effort to complete a project within the framework demonstrative of the Belt and Road Initiative.
Hu told Xinhua that the CREC-2 is in charge of the entire railing work of the railway. “We are currently maintaining a normal work pace along the rail, and we are going all out to ensure the progress, quality, as well as the health of all the staff.”
“We are to extend the railway to the tourist town of Vangvient on around June 5,” added Hu.
Xu Zhou, who was just awarded the May Fourth Medal, a national top honor for young Chinese, is leading his CREC-2 group in the suburbs of Vientiane. He told Xinhua, “Our pressure mainly comes from two aspects: on the one hand, we must attach great importance to virus prevention, which allows for no sloppiness; on the other hand, our supply of materials and equipment is affected by the pandemic, but the online railing job cannot be put off by our offline engineering.”
Xu can now breathe a sigh of relief as his team “has not only ensured the staff’s health and well-being, but also laid the timely foundation for the first track laying of the China-Laos Railway on March 27.”
“With the joint efforts of the Chinese and Lao engineers, we will be able to realize the dream of opening the China-Laos railway as soon as possible and in a safe manner amid the threat of the pandemic,” said Xu.
The Lao government announced its first two confirmed cases of COVID-19 on March 24, and has detected 19 cases altogether as of May 5.
The China-Laos Railway is a strategic docking project between the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative and Laos’ strategy to convert a landlocked country into a land-linked hub.
The 414-km railway, with 198 km of tunnels and 62 km of bridges, will run from the Boten border gate in northern Laos, bordering China, to Vientiane, with an operating speed of 160 km per hour.
The electrified passenger and cargo railway comprises the full application of Chinese management and technical standards.
The project started in December 2016 and is scheduled to be completed and open to traffic in December 2021.