When Thepmoukda Phetsalath graduated from Tongji University in Shanghai in 2019, she headed straight back to her home country of Laos, hoping to play a part in a highly anticipated development project.
The China-Laos Railway, a groundbreaking link between the two countries, was gearing up for its rollout, and Thepmoukda, 27, wanted to get involved.
"It would be an honor to contribute even just a little to the railway," said Thepmoukda, who works for Laos-China Power Investment Co, which was established in November 2019 to invest in, build and operate the power supply project for the railway.
Thepmoukda, who helps with communications, coordination and other work related to the railway's power supply, is among the many employees on both sides of the major transportation link who help to improve people's livelihoods and fuel economic growth across national borders.
The 1,035-kilometer China-Laos Railway, a landmark project of the Belt and Road Initiative and a flagship project for bilateral friendship, connects landlocked Laos with China's railway networks, greatly expanding Laos' access to global markets.
The railway rolled out its first car at the end of last year to mark the linking of Kunming, the capital of Southwest China's Yunnan province, with the Laotian capital of Vientiane.
As of Nov 7, total freight volume of the railway had surpassed 10 million metric tons, according to statistics of China Railway Kunming Bureau Group Co. The 1.35 million metric tons shipped by rail in October was a record for the railway's monthly freight volume.
The number of categories of goods has risen more than tenfold to 1,200, including exports such as electronics and chemical fertilizer and imports such as fruit and rubber — covering regional markets ranging from Cambodia and Vietnam to Thailand and Malaysia, according to the bureau.
"I shopped online regularly during my studies," said Thepmoukda. "Now, with the benefits brought by the railway, I can continue to do so, but the railway has sped up the delivery of e-commerce goods significantly.
"The railway is an important point of the Belt and Road Initiative. It has helped turn Laos, a landlocked country, into a 'land-linked' one and will bring great opportunities and convenience to the people, continuously improving our living standards," she said.
At the inauguration of the railway last year, President Xi Jinping urged both sides to keep up the high standards in the maintenance and operation of the link, saying that the regions along it must be properly developed to ensure that the railway benefits people from both nations.
To that effect, the employees of the China-Laos Railway, which is electrified, are acutely aware of the importance of maintaining a safe, stable and reliable power supply.
"To help keep the railway running safely and securely, our patrols work with advanced equipment like infrared monitoring systems to track operations under high-temperature conditions," said Li Yuanyuan, supervisor at the railway's power supply substation in the Xishuangbanna Dai autonomous prefecture of Yunnan.
The substation, a 500-kilovolt power relay project with a total investment of 345 million yuan ($49.5 million), serves as a transmission hub of the railway, and its smooth operation is expected to lay a firm foundation for future power networks connecting China and Laos.
Huang Wengang, general manager of Laos-China Power Investment Co, said that in addition to daily maintenance, inspectors also conduct a comprehensive analysis of the power grid operation model and formulate corresponding emergency power adjustment plans.
In Xishuangbanna's dense forest, Yan Yanta, who works for the Xishuangbanna Power Supply Bureau, can be seen climbing 60 meters high to tighten bolts on the steel structure on a power supply tower for the railway. The towers can be more than 80 meters tall, above the forest canopy, to help protect the area's environment, with workers like Yan maintaining the crucial infrastructure.
Zeng Jun, deputy manager of the bureau's transmission management office, said, "There are 12 main power lines in Xishuangbanna involving the railway, and we inspect important sections every month."
The railway's power supply network also includes 20 main transmission lines in Laos. These stretch more than 250 km and are located in Vientiane, Luang Prabang and other areas of the country, according to railway authorities.
In April, about 40 workers from Laos' national electricity company, Electricite du Laos, and Laos-China Power Investment Co participated in the first cross-border training session, which focused on the application, configuration and management of automated systems for the railway.
Yang Lang, who works for CYG Sunri Corp, an automatic and intelligent power systems company, said the Laotian trainees' enthusiasm for learning was very clear.
"They brought up the problems they encountered in their daily work to the classroom, analyzed them and communicated with us," Yang said.
"It was a pleasure to have this opportunity to deepen our understanding of Laos while sharing our technical standards and analytical methods."
Huang, the general manager of Laos-China Power Investment Co, said the technical training sessions are "an effective measure to promote China-Laos power technology exchanges and improve the safety and management levels of China-Laos Railway power supply projects".
The two sides will strive to continuously improve the operation and management level of the Laos power grid, deepen China-Laos power cooperation with practical actions and serve to jointly build a China-Laos community with a shared future, Huang said.
Ketsana Ratanalangsy, a Laos power supply technical officer who participated in the training session, said it was an enriching experience.
"Powering the railway makes me feel fulfilled," Ketsana said. "Our people can move from province to province, and country to country, more quickly. It can help connect our countries more conveniently."
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