The Yunnan–Burma Railway (alternatively: Burma-Yunnan Railway) was a failed British project to connect far south-west China's Yunnan province with the recently established rail network in British occupied Burma.
History and Politics
The British project was working against the background of the successful French Yunnan-Vietnam Railway that had been established on the nearby Hanoi to Kunming route from 1904–1910, some 30 years earlier. To secure the rights to construction, Britain referred to Article IV of the Anglo-French Siam Convention for 'mutual privileges'.
Planning and surveying
Maria Bugrova's article The British expeditions to China in XIX century discusses the question of a railway to Yunnan from Burma.
- In the 1880s, Great Britain drew special attention to the Upper Burma region and the roads to southwestern China. The former colonial officer of British Burma's administration, A.R. Colquhoun, and an engineer of the Civil Works Department in India, H. Hallett, traveled in 1882 from Canton to Rangoon. A.R Colquhoun returned to England and sent his proposal to the Chamber of Commerce of Great Britain to investigate the question of building a railway between Rangoon and southwestern China through the Shan states. His proposal was approved by the Chamber. According to a preliminary calculation, the cost of work was about seven thousand pound sterling. One half of this amount had to be presented by the Chambers of Commerce, and another part had to be contributed by the Government.
- By the end of 1884, Hallett and Colquhoun received 3,500 pounds from the Chamber of Commerce for the investigation of building a railway. They found important information about climate, population and minerals. They drew special attention to liking. From their point of view, penetration of British goods into China depended on the amount of this tax. The difficulty of liking question substantially explained the British traders' interest in building a railway. In case of this building it would be possible to avoid the payment of liking transferring goods to the interior of China. Colquhoun telegraphed daily to The Times about the expedition.
There are references in the 1898 British Hansard regarding possible construction of the line.
Archibald John Little's 1905 book The Far East mentioned the proposed route on page 124:
- A railway, starting from Mandalay, goes north-east to the bank of the Salwin which is to be crossed at Kunlong Ferry in latitude 23 degrees 20', whence, if ever built, it is to be taken north in Chinese territory and run parallel with the prevailing strike of the mountains, due north to Tali-fu; but this line will pass through a wild thinly-peopled country and it is doubtful if a private company will be found to build it.
In 1911, Leo Borgholz, the US Consul General in Canton, published a trade report entitled 'Yunnan Trade Districts and Routes', in which he mentions that the British appeared to have shelved the project for lack of financial viability.
In 1938, Edward Michael Law-Yone travelled to Yunnan from his native Burma to see the proposed route.
By 1938 construction had begun. In 1941 25 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 3⁄8 in) (meter-gauge) 2-8-8-2 mallet-type articulated engines were ordered from the American ALCO company, and American promised to supply steel for the construction effort.
An article by Royal Arch Gunnison published in the San Francisco Chronicle on Thursday, November 27, 1941 stated that American Engineers still expected "12 to 15 months to complete" the railway and described a Dr. Victor Haas of the United States Public Health Service as in charge of sanitation and malaria prevention.
Unfortunately, it seems that construction of the line was abandoned due to Japanese advances, and was never resumed. Burma's limited trading value to China and its internal political and military instability have probably been two major contributing factors.
Today the Yunnan side of the line lies in ruin. Though signs here and there attest to its presence, there is little actual rail left, and the line has all but vanished from local history and barely graces itineraries of all but the most determined travellers.
One such sign can be glimpsed opposite the ferry to Baodian, slightly south of Manwan in the far north-eastern section of Lincang prefecture. The sign records a tunnel from the construction, but the entry has long been covered over and there is no visual hint to the line's presence whatsoever.
- Journal of the Manchester Geographical Society, 1889, p81.
- British Hansard, 17 February 1898 - Early discussion of the line.
- The Far East, Archibald John Little, 1905, p124.
- Yunnan Trade Districts and Routes, 1911 as published in Daily Consular and Trade Reports, pp1223–1225.
- Between Winds and Clouds - The Making of Yunnan, Bin Yang.
- Construction Miracle: China's Yunnan Burma Railroad. Royal Arch Gunnison, San Francisco Chronicle, Thursday, November 27, 1941.
- Mallets built for export by North American locomotive builders. Includes reference to Yunnan/Burma railway 2-8-8-2 engines.
- Images of 2-8-8-2 engines from around the world.