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Sunday, 4 November, 2001, 12:43 GMT
SE-Asia railway idea revived
Map showing proposed route of railroad
The proposed route would cover more than 3,400 miles
A century-old scheme to build a railroad between Singapore and China may be revived by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations during their fifth annual summit in Brunei.

A feasibility study commissioned by the group identified the 3,400 mile (5,500 kilometres) route as starting in Singapore and running through Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam before ending in the city of Kunming in southern China, with additional forks connected to Burma and Laos.

The idea was originally proposed by British and French colonialists in 1900 following the completion of the Trans-Siberian Railroad connecting Moscow and the Pacific Ocean.

The proposal fell out of favour after the Bolshevik revolution.

It was resurrected by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in 1995 as part of an attempt to improve communications and transport infrastructure as economic competition increased with north-east Asia.

Upgrading track

Asean Secretary General Rodolfo Severino has emphasised the need to strengthen existing sections of track between high traffic areas such as Singapore and Bangkok in addition to the construction of missing links between Cambodia and Vietnam.

"There has been an understanding about the missing portions or portions that need upgrading," he was quoted as saying by Associated Press news agency.

He said it was the responsibility of national governments to arrange financing.

The 10-year project is estimated to cost about $400m.

Mr Severino said that the Asian Development Bank had already expressed an interest in financing the preliminary stages of the project, and it is hoped that international private institutions will also express interest.

China's rehabilitation

The railroad scheme is part of a larger plan to create a free-trade zone between China and Asean countries.

Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji arrives at an Asean summit in 1999
Mr Rongji will join the summit on Tuesday
Although still in early stages, Mr Severino said that the scheme was a response to foreign investment "rushing" to take advantage of economic opportunities in China at the expense of Asean countries.

"The response is not to put up your hands and give up, you engage China more closely."

Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji is expected to endorse the proposal at a summit meeting with Asean leaders on Tuesday.

See also:

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21 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
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27 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Megawati winds up Asean tour
01 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
China's ambitious railway
25 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Asean and the West meet in Hanoi
23 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Asean ministers cautious on Indonesia
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