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Laos-China workers finish 257km power supply project

On Sep 26, 2021, 10 traction substations along the Lao section of the Laos-China Railway began to power up the railway, kicking off the full operation of the 115 kV external power supply project for the Lao rail section.

The Laos-China Railway marks the first electrified line in Laos. For modern electrified railways, power supply holds the key in their operation, like the blood flowing in an organic body.

Passing through the four provinces of Luang Namtha, Oudomxay, Luang Prabang and Vientiane, as well as the capital city of Vientiane, the external power supply project for Lao section of the China-Laos Railway is designed to build the 115kV transmission lines with a total length of 257 kilometers, and it connects 10 electrified traction substations to the Lao national grid.

The Laos-China Power Investment Company (LCPC), jointly founded by China Southern Power Grid Yunnan International (CSG-YNIC) and Electricite Du Laos (EDL) in 2019, is in charge of the power supply project for Laos – China Railway.

“Laos and China carried out multiple power-cooperation projects, which has been conducive to guaranteeing power supply in Laos, and construction of the projects injected vigour to Lao economic growth and industrial restructuring,” said Khammany Inthirath, Former Minister of Energy and Mines.

CSG high standard empowers Lao workers

The External Power Supply Project for Lao section of the Laos – China Railway is the first BOT (Build-Operate-Transfer) project in the country. Holding the attitude of being responsible for the Lao people and the power industry, the LCPC decided to adopt the higher standard of China Southern Power Grid (CSG) in constructing the project.

Standards for power-grid construction fall into three categories in China: corporate, industrial and national. In terms of building up the power-transmission network and its supporting facilities, the CSG standard is higher than the industrial or national standard. In adopting the higher construction standard, however, benefits will be long lasting though there are difficulties in the beginning. Linguistic barriers and cultural differences formed the first difficulty.

“To overcome the linguistic barriers in the project, we hired the Laotian interpreters good at Chinese to facilitate communications between the Lao and Chinese workers,” said Qin Hua, the LCPC business manager, adding the explanations were followed by practical examples. “The leading Chinese technicians showed in person how to erect the lines, how to keep safe in operations, which step comes first and others,” said Qin.

Local workers showed understanding and support to their Chinese peers’ adopting the higher technical and safety standard in demonstrations, but when the details were actually carried out in construction, the local workers found it hard to adapt to.

In equipping the pylon towers with anti-theft nuts, for example, the Lao workers tend to easily force the locks into the tower with a hammer, while the CSG standard stresses the locks’ aperture must be kept in a unified direction.

Huang Wengang, LCPC president and head of the project, explained that this is conducive to future check-ups in maintenance. “The unified direction will make it much easier to see what’s wrong and the operational efficiency will be thus increased. What’s more, orderliness is also part of the high quality.”

Thanks to the high standard, strict steps and patient talks, the local workers gradually changed their ideas and practices. At the minor changes, Huang had another thought. “When the project is finished, the Lao workers will be equipped with new skills and experience for a better job, and they can contribute to more projects in Laos.”

The person who is in charge of the EDL said that the project team has been careful and considerate in powering the China-Laos Railway. He thought it was honored to work with a team that has tried all possible ways to push forward the project with the high standard.

Caring for lucid waters, lush mountains in Laos

Ecological and environmental protection is of special significance in planning and constructing the power-supply project for the Lao rail section: From the Laos – China border town of Boten southward to Vientiane near the Laos-Thailand border, the railway section is coupled with diverse ecologies, environmentally sensitive areas, and numerous nature reserves.

Respectful to nature’s grace and cultural relics, the LCPC and other constructors have always taken environmental protection as an inalienable part in the project planning, constructing, and checking for acceptance, trying all possible means to minimize the environmental impact.

Borrowing the Chinese environmental-protection experiences in constructing power-supply projects for mountainous railways, the construction teams adopted tower foundations of unequal heights to minimize excavation in the Lao mountains. This practice had been hardly applied in Laos before that.

“Lao constructors mostly are accustomed to the even foundations, but erecting a pylon tower means flatting a hill top first,” said Yin Nan, senior business manager at the CSG-YNIC. The uneven tower foundations have reduced the project’s digging and environmental impact, and prevented water losses and soil erosion, while increased the tower’s security and reliability.

Besides protecting the land features with technical procedures, the project constructors also took into account the plants and animals protection along the Lao rail section. By elevating the heights of towers, vegetation damage was reduced and passages for animal migration were preserved. When height of the pylons reaches up to 60-80 meters, it could avoid cutting treetops.

After construction, the builders also planted suitable grass species to restore the local eco-environment.

“Having visited Laos several times, we’ve fallen in love with the hills, waters and lush vegetation here, understanding better the Lao folks’ special love and reverence to nature,” said the Chinese workers, adding they cared for the local environment from the route selection to project design and construction. “Lucid waters and lush mountains are valued not only in China, but also in Laos.”

Bond for people-to-people exchanges

In their efforts to go global, Chinese companies have tried their best to benefit local community and build bonds with local people.

“A state-owned company, the CSG never sees profit as its only pursuit,” stressed a person in charge of the firm. Instead, it aimed to shoulder more social responsibility via projects, boosting the Lao economy and improving locals’ well-being in practical terms.

In dealing with the tricky problem of land compensation, for example, the CSG took into account the governmental requirements and the villagers’ appeals. When pushing forward the project, the construction teams took the initiative to talk with the departments, village heads and villagers’ representatives, solving their problems with patience.

“The key is to find out the right person,” said Qin Hua.

26-year-old Thepmoukda Phetsalath is a LCPC staffer with the Lao nationality, who joined the power-supply project after graduation from Tongji University in China. Mastering the Laotian and Chinese languages, Phetsalath has worked at the LCPC for two years as an interpreter and negotiator, bridging the linguistic gaps among the Laos – China workers and between project managers and local Laotians.

The Lao staffers of the project mostly served in the administrative sector at first, but as the project and integration went deeper, more Laotians like Phetsalath played more roles in business activities and technical tasks.

Since its full commencement in December 2019, the power-supply project for the Lao rail section has offered job opportunities for villagers and townsmen along the railway. According to incomplete data, a total of 654 workers were carrying forward the project during the peak construction days, including the LCPC staffers, four construction teams and one supervising group. Of these, the Laotians accounted for almost 80 per cent.

In its efforts of localization, the CSG has specifically carried out technical exchanges on power management, professional training and international programmes for students, while advancing Laos – China interconnection in power supply, said Wang Fude, an LCPC senior business manager. All aimed for long-term power cooperation in the two countries.

Heads of the CSG-YNIC said by deepening power cooperation in more neighbouring countries, the CSG would step up technical training in the future, so that more locals could be trained as professional talents in power supply and management and benefit the local power industry.

Source: Lao News Agency