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Transport Ministry asked to save or kill mega train project

Deputy Prime Minister Trinh Dinh Dung has urged the transport ministry to make a final decision on the fate of a multi-million dollar railway project that was abandoned 15 years ago.



Passengers on a Yen Vien-Ha Long train. A high speed railway on the same route was supposed to replace the old trains, but has been suspended for 15 years and possibly longer as the Government is uncertain of the project's future.

In a document addressed to the Ministry of Transport (MOT) last week, the Deputy PM asked the ministry to quickly decide whether the Yen Vien-Pha Lai-Ha Long-Cai Lan mega project should be continued, suspended or completely terminated.

Construction of the 130km railway started in 2005 with an estimated investment of VND7.66 trillion mobilised from Government bonds, which amounted to US$494.5 million at the time.

It was supposed to be Viet Nam’s first high speed railway with passenger trains running at 120km per hour, shortening the travel time between Ha Noi and Ha Long to only two hours instead of the current 7.5 hours.

The project was suspended in 2011 after the Government decided to cut public spending. Only 5km connecting Ha Long and Cai Lan was finished at the time.

The project was then put on hold for several years, leading to frequent protests by residents from Hai Duong and Quang Ninh provinces where the line was supposed to run through.

In petitions sent to the MOT, residents of Quang Ninh said the abandoned project had wasted land and interrupted the socio-economic development of the province, and caused all kinds of inconveniences for locals.

Many residents complained that they were not permitted to build, repair or sell their houses or land, but had not received compensation in order to move. A survey estimated that the project’s land clearance would affect up to 3,616 households in the province.

Citizens in Hai Duong have also repeatedly urged the MoT to decide on the future of the suspended project, which has disrupted traffic and irrigation channels in the locality for years.

They want the ministry to resume and complete the project in the shortest time possible, or to end the project completely so that locals can settle down.

Deputy Transport Minister Nguyen Ngoc Dong said the railway project was postponed in 2011 and was meant to resume in 2015.

The ministry at that time proposed raising the total investment in the project to more than VND10.5 trillion due to rising material costs and higher expenses for labour and land clearance.

The Government did not approve the new budget, and the railway has been left idle.

Meanwhile, materials worth more than VND300 million like steel bars, bolts and screws for tracks are rusting away at Dong Trieu Station in Quang Ninh Province.

The MoT recently suggested using the abandoned materials to repair and upgrade tracks on the Ha Noi – HCM City railway, but it was flatly refused by the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Planning and Investment.

According to the two ministries, thousands of tonnes of materials were categorised as public assets as regulated by the Law of Public Asset Management and Use. They therefore could only be sold or transferred after the project ends – which was not the case.

“The Government has once more asked for the project to be reviewed, so the ministry has tasked the Transport Development and Strategy Institute and the railway’s Project Management Unit to recalculate the investment (for the project). The Government will then consider its financial feasibility and report to the National Assembly later this year,” Dong said.

“If approved in time, the mid-term budget for 2021-2025 might include the project.” — VNS

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