Put us back on track, Hanoi Train Street cafés plead

By Doan Loan, Nguyen Quy   October 22, 2019 | 04:17 pm GMT+7
Put us back on track, Hanoi Train Street cafés plead
The Hanoi Train Street has been closed to tourists since mid October due to authorities' concern over safety. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.

Hanoi Train Street café owners have petitioned authorities to let their business continue, promising strict safety measures, but opponents aren't convinced.

Café owners on the Tran Phu Street side last Sunday asked for the barriers at rail crossings preventing tourists from entering Hanoi's Train Street to be lifted in a petition sent to authorities.

They said they would ensure their business was a minimum 1.5 meters away from the tracks. "All business households will paint safety lines and install steel barriers in front of their stores to prevent visitors from crossing the tracks," the petition read.

Warning signs would be put up, telling visitors not to sit or stand on the track. Loudspeakers would be used to announce impending passage of trains, and café owners would also install CCTV cameras to monitor business operations and ensure safety for visitors, they wrote.

Nguyen Thi Dung, a coffee shop owner, said that since local authorities blocked the entrance and exit to Phung Hung Street in the heart of the city’s Old Quarter, a part of the 200-meter Hanoi Train Street, most families in the area were in trouble as they had no income.

"We want to turn the railway coffee area into a civilized and attractive tourist destination for foreign tourists. It had already become a tourist hotspot," she said.

Since mid October Hanoi has put up barriers at the rail crossings and prevented tourists from entering the place following the Ministry of Transport's requirement. The place has now worn a deserted look.

Cafe owners along the Train Street want to resume their business to improve their income. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.

Cafe owners along the Train Street want to resume their business to improve their income. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.

Against reopening

In a spate of responses to news about the proposal, VnExpress readers by and large said they were against the reopening of Hanoi's Train Street.

Reader Quang Nguyen said the government should be firm about removing makeshift coffee shops near the tracks for the safety of both local residents and foreign tourists while ensuring normal railway operations.

Another reader, Le Huan Hoang, said business households cannot offer guarantees when what is at risk is human deaths. "In fact, foreign tourists come to the area for purposes of taking selfie photos in the middle of the tracks or capturing the moving train, not to drink coffee or other drinks," Hoang said.

"This is too dangerous. Moreover, it is not okay that for the sake of some cafés, the image of Vietnamese tourism is risked," reader Hang Doan wrote.

Deputy director of Vietnam Railways Doan Duy Hoach argued that visitors wandering on the track increased the risk of accidents and prevented maintenance work.

In addition, when passing through the Train Street, the trains had to go much slower than 30 km/h and the driver had to wait for people to move out of the tracks. "Furthermore, trains could change their schedule and have to use the track at "unexpected" times, adding to the risk," he added.

Psychologist Dinh Doan said that while foreign visitors gathered at the railway cafés because it was an exotic experience that they would never get in their home countries, ensuring safety was more important.

Foreign tourists use smartphones to capture the moment when the train passes by. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy. 

Foreign tourists use smartphones to capture the moment when the train passes by. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy. 

The capital city's Train Street is a section of railway tracks that run alongside Dien Bien Phu and Phung Hung streets, with residential buildings just a few feet away on either side. 

The tracks were built by the French, who used the railway to transport goods and people across Vietnam, which was then part of Indochina, along with Laos and Cambodia, more than 100 years ago. Today the original meter-gauge tracks are still a regular mode of transport for locals and tourists.

When tourists began to flock to the area to see the arresting sight of trains some years ago, locals saw an opportunity and set up makeshift cafés alongside the tracks, vastly increasing human traffic to the area.

With hundreds of tourists waiting for the train to pass to take selfies and post photos and videos on Instagram, authorities became concerned about the safety of people. 

Anna Terblanche, a foreign tourist, said that she did not think it's a very good idea to close the railway coffee area.

"If you think of all job opportunities, all the money that comes in here, closing the area means people'll be out of work and tourists will lose out such a wonderful experience," Terblanche told VnExpress when touring the Train Street some days before it was closed to the public.

 
 
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