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 2013 construction started on a new, separate, 220km metre gauge line from Lao Bao on the Vietnamese border (where it will eventually connect with Vietnam Railways) to Savannakhet 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 2016 construction started on a new 414 km, standard (1435mm) gauge railway from the Chinese frontier at Boten (where it will connect with the Chinese network) via Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng and Vientian to an interchange with the existing railway at Tha na Laeng.
Flag image from CIA World Factbook