Need for high-speed rail arguments continue unabated

By Nguyen Nam   March 27, 2021 | 09:30 pm PT
Need for high-speed rail arguments continue unabated
A high speed train at Tokyo Station, Japan. Photo by Shutterstock/lusia83.
More than 10 years after they were first proposed, high-speed railroad plans remain mired in concerns and disagreement over speeds and cost.

Three high-speed routes are currently under study or have been proposed: north-south, Ho Chi Minh City-Can Tho and Hanoi-Lang Son.

A final report by consultancy consortium CCTDI-TRICC-TEDI, comprising three Vietnamese construction firms, on the master plan for railroad development for 2021-30 sets out two options.

The more ambitious one envisages the completion of phased investment for two north-south high-speed railways, Hanoi-Vinh and HCMC-Nha Trang by 2030.

The two railways have a total length of 651 km and might cost VND561 trillion ($24.18 billion) to be built.

The other is to complete them by 2032 at a cost of VND375 trillion. The consultants forecast a maximum of 14 million passengers using the high-speed trains annually at that time.

They expect an average of 44.7 million passengers using north-south railroads annually by 2050.

An expert who asked not to named said however that these options are "overly optimistic," if not downright unfeasible.

He said 10 years would not be enough to complete these projects, considering the approvals that need to be obtained at various levels, the money that needs to be raised and carrying out the work.

There is also a continuing debate on whether the trains should run at 200 kph as proposed by the Ministry of Planning and Investment and some experts or 350 kph as suggested by the Ministry of Transport and the consultants.

That may prolong the time required for getting National Assembly approval.

Dang Huy Dong, director of the Planning and Development Institute, said building infrastructure for trains running at 350kph would be prohibitively expensive, and the resultant high fares would also make the entire thing unviable.

It is economically efficient to have passenger trains running at a speed of 150kph and freight trains at 100kph, he told local media.

The State Appraisal Council is in the process of identifying an agency that would assess the feasibility of the various options for the north-south routes.

Recently the Lang Son Province people's committee proposed building the Hanoi-Dong Dang high-speed rail starting in 2030, saying is necessary to enhance rail transport between ASEAN countries and China. The proposed route will go on up to Nanning in Guangxi, China.

Earlier this year the Ministry of Transport ordered the Railway Project Management Board to complete a pre-feasibility study on the HCMC-Can Tho link by 2022.

The South Construction Technology Science Institute wants high-speed trains on the route with a 1.43-meter double track serving both passenger and freight trains traveling at 200 kph and 100 kph.

It expected it to cost around $10 billion.

A Ministry of Transport official said the route might be necessary, but many issues need to be sorted out first. For instance, the 150-km distance might not be ideal for a high-speed train, he said.

Vu Anh Minh, chairman of Vietnam Railways, said flying from Hanoi to HCMC takes around five hours in all while a high-speed train traveling at 300 kph would take six hours.

"Considering the nature and geography of Vietnam, the development of a high-speed network is imperative, and we are losing socioeconomic development opportunities every day without it."

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