End of the line: Hanoi train factory runs out of steam after century of glory

Gia Lam Train Company, once a symbol of the capital’s industrial revolution, is now in the red and has to be relocated.

Gia Lam Train Company was opened by the French in 1905 at the meeting point of four northern railways.

The company, now on Nguyen Van Cu Street in Long Bien District, enjoyed its heyday during the 1980s and 1990s.

Le Van Dao, a manager, said it once had a 3,000-strong workforce, ten times more than it currently employs.

“The road in front of the company was jammed every day after hours,” Dao said.

Wages at the company were among the best in the capital, he said. “Families with two people working here were rich.”

No light at the end of the tunnel

Business started to go south more than 10 years ago as travelers moved from trains to buses and airplanes, and there have been few new orders for trains.

Railways account for 1.14 percent of passenger transport in Vietnam, compared to 96 percent by road and 2 percent by air, according to official data. Most freight is transported via road.

The Hanoi factory has been mostly repairing old trains in recent times. This is one of only two factories in Vietnam that can build large cars for trains. The other is in the southern province of Binh Duong.

The last upgrade to the factory took place in 1988 with aid from the Polish government. Now, most of the 20-hectare (49 acres) factory is left to rust.

It is reporting losses of around VND10 billion ($440,000) a year, and pays its workers only VND3-4 million ($132-176) a month, which is below the national average.

Many long-time employees have quit.

Officials announced plans last week to relocate the factory because it is losing money.

Managers said they do not know when or where it will be moved to.

Around 10 more employees have quit since the relocation news. “Morale is really low,” Dao said.

“If we have to move, we will, but it will be sad to lose such an investment and historic site.”

Anh Minh - Ngoc Thanh


By Anh Minh - Ngoc Thanh