Rail Services (VNR)

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Rail transport in Vietnam

The railway system in Vietnam is owned and operated by the state-owned Vietnam Railways (Vietnamese: Đường sắt Việt Nam). The principal route, the single track North-South Railway running between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, accounts for 1,726 kilometres (1,072 mi) of the network’s total length of 2,600 kilometres (1,600 mi). The national railway network uses mainly metre gauge, although there are several standard gauge and mixed gauge lines in the north of the country.[1][2]

The first railways in Vietnam were established in the 1880s, with construction beginning in 1888; these included a tram running between the ports of Saigon and Cholon, and a regional rail line connecting Saigon with Mỹ Tho. Railway construction flourished soon afterwards, during the administration of Paul Doumer as Governor-General of French Indochina from 1897 to 1902. It was during this time that construction of the Yunnan–Vietnam and North–South railways began. Construction of the North-South line took over thirty years, finally ending in 1936, during which time other branch lines were also completed. Beginning in World War II, the entire rail network became a target of bombing attacks by a number of groups, including both North Vietnamese and South Vietnamese troops during the Vietnam War. Although the main lines—particularly the North–South line—were quickly restored and returned to service once conflict ended, many branch lines were abandoned and dismantled at their expense, their infrastructure used to replace damaged sections of the main lines, or sold as scrap.[1][3]

With increased economic growth brought on by the Doi Moi reforms of the late 1980s, the railway system has entered a renewed phase of development. A number of major projects supported by official development assistance have been proposed or are currently underway, including a series of projects to improve bridge and railway safety on the North-South Railway line,[3] connections to Cambodia and Laos,[4] and the restoration of a number of defunct lines, including the Đà Lạt–Tháp Chàm railway first established in the 1930s. A high-speed rail link between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City has also been proposed, which would reduce journey length from 30 hours to around 6 hours.[1][5] Laos has held a ceremony but construction remains stalled (2019) on a rail line to Lao Bao from Savannakhet, across from the Thai rail head to Bangkok.

Rail Usage

Rail transport remains relatively underused as a mode of transport in Vietnam. While road transport dominates the transport sector by far—accounting for 65% of freight moved as of 2006—rail transport accounted for only 4% of freight transportation in 2008, and 5% of passenger transportation, leading it to be considered the “least relevant” of all modes of transport in the European Union’s 2010 Green Book on Vietnam. According to reports by the Asian Development Bank, however, the role of rail transport is growing, carving out a significant role for itself in long-distance bulk cargo transport.

The Vietnamese railway network has a total length of 2,600 kilometres (1,600 mi), dominated by the North-South line running between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City; as of 2007, 85% of the network’s passenger volume and 60% of its cargo volume was transported along this line. There were 278 stations on the Vietnamese railway network as of 2005, 191 of which were located along the North-South line.

Vietnam has 11 passenger train railway lines currently in service:

  • Reunification Line: running 1,726 km from Ho Chi Minh City to Ha Noi.
  • The Ha Noi to Lao Cai line: running 296 km via Yen Bai this is the connection point between the railway network and highland areas such as Sa Pa.
  • Ha Noi to Dong Dang: This service connects the Vietnam Railway Network to China Trains 163 km
  • Kep to Ha Long: a 106 km railway line to the Ha Long town near the famous Ha Long bay.
  • Ha Noi to Hai Phong: a 102 km railway line from Ha Noi to the coastal town of Hai Phong.
  • Ha Noi to Thai Nguyen: a 75 km train line running due North from Ha Noi. 
  • Thai Nguyen to Kep: a useful 57 km rail line that connects Thai Nguyen to Kep from where you can then take a train to Ha Long bay.
  • Pho Lu to Xuan Giao:  an 11 km branch line off the Ha Noi to Lao Cai line.
  • Tien Kien to Bai Bang: 10.5 km branch line
  • Da Lat to Trai Mat: 7 km branch line off the Reunification Line.
  • Tien Kien to Lam Thao: 4.1 km branch line.

Several railway lines have been proposed for construction in Vietnam in recent years. The largest such project is the high-speed North–South Express Railway connecting Ha Noi and Ho Chi Minh City, valued at approximately US$56 billion. Due to its cost, plans for the line are currently on hold pending further study of the project.Other projects involve the restoration of previously existing lines, such as the Da Lat–Tháp Chàm and Ho Chi Minh City–Loc Ninh lines, both of which were originally built in the 1930s, but fell into disuse after decades of war.

The proposed Ho Chi Minh City–Loc Ninh and Mụ Giạ–Vung Ang lines would establish Vietnam’s first international railway links to Cambodia and Laos, respectively.

Railway Management

The Vietnamese railway network is owned and operated by the state-owned enterprise Vietnam Railways (VNR), which operates a number of different subsidiaries involved in construction, communications, training, and other activities connected to railway maintenance.

Following the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, the newly reunified Vietnamese railway network was centrally managed by the precursor of VNR, the government’s Department of Railways. Initially, low rail tariffs and the poor state of infrastructure used in other modes of transport led to high usage, but revenue proved to be insufficient to cover the railway’s operating costs. In 1986, the Government’s implementation of Doi Moi economic reforms led to the deregulation of the transport sector and the shift towards a market-led economy, forcing the railways to change in order to maintain a competitive edge.

The Department of Railways was reorganized into Vietnam Railways (Vietnamese: Đường sắt Việt Nam) in 1989; since that time, railway reform has passed through a number of stages. Responsibility for rail infrastructure and operations were separated by government decree in 1994.

The government of Germany began providing assistance with the restructuring of the railway sector in 2000, allowing VNR to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of its operations, thus increasing its competitiveness. In 2003, VNR was re-organized as a state corporation, the Vietnam Railway Corporation, operating in railway transport and related services;railway administration and infrastructure management were given to the Vietnam Railway Administration, under the authority of the Ministry of Transport.

A Railway Law was passed by the National Assembly on 19 May 2005; although regulations for the law’s implementation have yet to be issued, it does provide a strong basis for further sector development; among other things, it proposed that foreign investors be invited to invest in Vietnam Railways