Vietnam rues missed railway opportunity

By Doan Loan   June 4, 2018 | 10:52 pm PT
Vietnam rues missed railway opportunity
Locals sitting on a railway in Hanoi. Photo by Giang Huy
Series of recent crashes bring up discussions of undue attention for railway development.

In belated recognition, experts are saying that Vietnam’s railways sector has been “forgotten” and neglected instead of being taken advantage of.

The underdeveloped plight of the nation’s railways sector, more than a hundred years old, was spotlighted last month when four accidents occurred in as many successive days.

On May 24, a train proceeding from Hanoi to Da Nang collided with a dump truck, killing the train driver and his assistant and injuring 10 others.

In the next three days, two freight trains travelling in opposite directions rammed into each other, another train derailed and one more hit a concrete mixer truck, resulting in injuries and paralyzing traffic on the vital North-South line for hours.

“The railway has been forgotten and neglected when it is supposed to be an advantage for a long country like Vietnam,” Tran Dinh Thien, director of the Vietnam Economic Institute, said at a conference last week.

In other countries, the railway sector typically takes up 30 percent of the transportation market share, but this is a pathetic one percent in Vietnam, economist Phung Van Hung said at the same event.

With the state limiting its investment, just 30 percent of railway infrastructure in the country is being maintained, Hung said. Private investors are not interested as they don’t see the same chance of capital recovery they see in aviation or roads, he added.

Underlining the underdeveloped state of the railways sector in the country, he said most countries have automatic barriers at railway crossings, while people have to do this manually in Vietnam.

Many locals have even opened their own crossings to make travelling through railway more convenient. These crossings are not operated by workers and are unsafe for pedestrians and vehicles. There are now 4,000 unofficial crossings in the country, but only 90 of them, or 2.25 percent, have been removed in the last two years, said Nguyen Hai Hung, deputy chairman of the National Assembly’s Security and Defense Committee.

Luu Binh Nhuong, a National Assembly delegate, said technological development in the sector has proceeded at a very sluggish pace. Just discussing amendments to the Railway Law is difficult, he added.

Local authorities are responsible for railway safety, but for now, there is a gap between them and the Ministry of Transportation, the MP said. He expressed hope that the government will intervene and direct local authorities to ensure railway safety.

The Minister of Transport, Nguyen Van The, admitted responsibility for the recent railway accidents at a National Assembly meeting on Monday.

But, he claimed: "The Ministry of Transport cares about railways."

He said a proposal for building a high-speed railway network will be submitted to authorized agencies next year. However, the $40 billion price tag for this project has attracted criticism.

Vietnam currently has over 2,600 kilometers of railway tracks, none of them high-speed. All Vietnamese trains run on diesel, while Malaysia, Thailand, Korea, Japan and China have electric railway systems.

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