First metro project a story of fits and starts

By Doan Loan   November 4, 2021 | 05:00 pm PT
First metro project a story of fits and starts
Trains seen on track of Hanoi's first metro line Cat Linh-Ha Dong. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy
Vietnam’s first metro project will begin operation this Saturday, marking over 10 years of construction marked by many delays and contentious issues.

The Cat Linh – Ha Dong Metro Route was approved in 2008 and was originally scheduled to be completed by 2013, with China appointing the China Railway Sixth Group Co Ltd as contractor.

The project is expected to be a game changer for public transportation in a crowded city with millions of personal vehicles. It would help public transportation meet up to 45 percent of demand.

But several hurdles delayed construction until 2011. Hanoi authorities faced major obstacles in clearing an area of 100 hectares and relocating 2,000 households.

Land acquisition, which cost VND915 billion ($40.26 million), took until May 2015.

The delay, combined with additional changes to the original design, like increasing stations to three storied buildings instead of two, dealing with land issues for the depot and changing the route to avoid National Route 6 increased the project’s total price tag by 57 percent to $868 million.

A couple of serious accidents also happened during construction.

On November 6, 2014, a broken cable caused a steel bar to fall and kill a motorbike driver and injure two others.

A month later a combination of scaffolding and concrete dropped on a taxi and crushed it. Fortunately, four people inside the vehicle were safely taken out. Several managers and staff were fired after the incident.

In July 2015, the China Railway Sixth Group asked for the project deadline to be extended because just 30 percent of the work was completed. The Ministry of Transport granted an extension until June 2016.

The contractor missed this deadline, too. The ministry then demanded that it become operational by mid-2017, but the contractor missed the deadline again and asked for an extension until early 2018.

In September 2018, the Cat Linh – Ha Dong route was put on trial for the first time. The project transitioned to safety evaluation, which was prolonged for three years.

This delay happened after the China Railway Sixth Group failed to complete its paperwork in time, and because it was the first project of its kind in the country and experienced unforceen complications, the transport ministry said.

Last year, the Covid-19 pandemic added to the challenges as experts with the French safety evaluation consultancy Apave-Certifier-Tricc could not arrive in Vietnam due to flight restrictions.

They arrived by the end of the year and gave their safety certificate by the end of April this year, which included 16 safety recommendations.

A government entity completed the final safety procedure examination last month, creating conditions for the Ministry of Transport to hand the project over to Hanoi this week.

Ministry officials have said that the project is a major lesson in infrastructure.

Vietnam has many differences in regulations regarding engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contracts, and the original contract had "holes" that needed to be dealt with years later.

The Official Development Assistance project involved many new and advanced technologies that Vietnamese authorities were not familiar with, and this was a major contributor to repeated delays.

Both the Chinese contractor and the Hanoi Metropolitan Railway Management Board (MRB) were responsible for the delays, the ministry said.

Hanoi authorities were responsible for delays in land clearance, it added.

The capital will operate the train starting 9 a.m. Saturday. It has said that fares will range from VND8,000 to VND15,000 ($0.35–0.66) per trip after the first 15 days free of charge.

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