China Railway Eryuan Engineering Corporation (CREEC) has started a partial survey for the Muse-Mandalay-Kyaukphyu railway line, part of the China –Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) and the larger Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Myanmar signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for the project, expected to be one of the largest road and railway projects in the country, last October.

The project calls for the building of a high-speed railway line from Kunming, China, to Muse on the Myanmar-China border and from there to Mandalay and terminating in Kyaukphyu in Rakhine. The survey project Muse to Mandalay the 430km line is expected to support trains travelling at up to 160kmh and will feature seven cargo stations and five passenger stations.

China is said to view the project to connect the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone and deepwater port in Myanmar as something that will benefit both countries under the larger CMEC umbrella, “CREEC, at their cost, has started a ground survey for the project and wants to proceed with the construction, but Myanmar hasn’t given any commitment beyond signing the MOU,” U Htaung Shan Khan, general manager of planning and administration of Myanmar Railways told The Myanmar Times. “They want to construct the railway and run trains, but we have to consider Myanmar’s own interests and policies and the surveying for the project in Mandalay has been allowed,” he said.

However, former Thibaw MP U Ye Tun, whose township is located along the projected route of the railway, says the survey should be conducted for the entire route instead of just from Muse to Mandalay. “It would be wrong if just a portion of the project of the project’s route is surveyed. The survey should be all the way to Kyaukphyu. If not, the Kyaukphyu deepwater port may not be as viable as expected,” U Ye Tun said. “The Kyaukphyu deepwater port includes investments from Myanmar and if the government doesn’t receive sufficient revenue from the port and it is not workable, I worry that the port will be like one in Sri Lanka that China took over,” said U Ye Tun.

To receive revenue from Kyaukphyu deepwater port, to ensure ships stop at the port and to draw investments to the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone, a trade route has to be established. If the railway doesn’t reach Kyaukphyu, the deepwater port and special economic zone will be in trouble, he said.

If Kyaukphyu does not connect China, which is the world’s main manufacturer, and the India Ocean, Myanmar needs to consider that the company that builds the deepwater port and the country will be affected, said U Ye Tun.While the CMEC project calls for an economic corridor encompassing the Muse-Mandalay-Kyaukphyu and Yangon, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications says the railway project will only be from Muse to Mandalay for now.

“Even if it connects to Rakhine, I think goods that are transported by road will gravitate to Mandalay. Goods produced and exported from Yunnan will come down the economic corridor to Myanmar, so our market is Yunnan and their market is our entire country,” said U Htaung Shan Khan. According to officials from Myanmar Railways, it is still unclear how the railway route will be extended to Kyaukphyu.