The first railway in Laos was a short (6.5km) narrow gauge railway opened in 1893 across the Mekong River islands of Don Det and Don Khong, forming a portage route for river traffic. The line closed to rail traffic in the 1940s, although much of the route can still be traced and the former railway bridge between the two islands now carries a road.
This was the only railway built in Laos until 2008, when a new 3.5km, metre gauge line in was completed from a station at Tha na Laeng to the Friendship Bridge over the Mekong river, which at that point forms the border with Thailand. The Friendship Bridge was opened to road traffic in 1994 with provision for a railway incorporated in the structure, but construction of the actual railway line was delayed for over a decade. The line now crosses the bridge to connect with the State Railway of Thailand, which operates the section in Laos on behalf of the Lao Railway Authority. The terminal is about 8km from the capital, Vientiane.
In 2016 surveying was completed for a new 220km standard (1435mm) gauge line from Lao Bao to Savannakhet; however, construction has yet to commence. Lao Bao is a town on the Vietnamese border, where the new railway is planned to meet a new line constructed by Vietnam Railways. Savannakhet is on the east bank of the Mekong river opposite Mueang Mukdahan in Thailand. Mueang Mukdahan is not rail served, although a future extension of the Thai rail network is a possibility.
In 2017, the governments of Laos and Vietnam signed a letter of intent to build an new standard gauge railway between Vientiane and Vũng Áng port, Vietnam, via the Mụ Giạ Pass. The line would be 555km in length, of which 452km would be in Laos.
In 2021, a new 414 km standard gauge railway was completed from the Chinese frontier at Boten (where it connects with the Chinese network) via Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng and Vientiane to an interchange with the metre gauge railway at Tha na Laeng. Freight and passenger services commenced in 2022. At the same time but under a separate contract, the metre gauge railway was extended from Tha na Laeng to central Vientiane.
Photo image provided by Trainlism