Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Proposal to upgrade railway kicks up friction, gets no traction

A Move to upgrade the nation’s railways has been shunted onto the sidelines as the transport minister told parliament his department is just too busy. The proposal by Bago Region MP U Than Nyunt (NLD; Phyu) to bring the rail network up to international standards to attract more international investment would have to be filed away, Transport and Communications Minister U Thant Sin Maung said on October 4.

Commuters pack the Taungbyone train in Mandalay Region. Photo: Si Thu Lwin / The Myanmar TimesCommuters pack the Taungbyone train in Mandalay Region. Photo: Si Thu Lwin / The Myanmar Times

He was speaking as the Pyithu Hluttaw’s debate on the issue closed after a discussion involving 13 MPs.

Military MP Major Ye Naing Lwin added that upgrading the railway system to “good quality” would mean ensuring its timeliness and accessibility to the public through keeping costs low.

“We’re doing our best to improve the transportation sector, but I cannot do everything in this government’s five-year term,” said U Thant Sin Maung, recommending that the motion be recorded.

He listed the work being done by his ministry: introducing the Bus Rapid Transit system to ease Yangon city traffic congestion; managing the requirements for vehicles and roads, upgrading the Yangon-Mandalay Highway, also known as the Highway of Death for its high accident rates; bringing in safety measures on vital trade arteries like the Myawady-Muse and the Yangon-Mandalay-Myitkyina roads; upgrading the Yangon-Mandalay railway; building harbours along the Ayeyarwady River between Yangon and Mandalay; and tightening control of waterways.

The government would also be spending US$2 billion on a new international airport by 2020, he said.

The minister told MPs Myanma Railways had received K1.3 billion in international loans under the former government, and now owed a total of K4 billion.

In an effort to reduce the rail journey time between Yangon and Mandalay to eight hours, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) had lent US$2.2 billion, U Thant Sin Maung said.

The Belgian government was lending 100 million euros through the finance ministry to improve water flow along the Ayeyarwady River.

The spending breakdown for investment funding was 67 percent for construction, 22pc for railways, 2.7pc for waterways and 7.5pc for air transport.

Bago Region MP Daw Khin Soe Soe Kyi (NLD; Pyay) told The Myanmar Times, “The minister made it clear that railway improvement cannot be done overnight. It requires a great deal of investment. Some loans have been received from JICA and ADB [Asian Development Bank], and other loans have been proposed. A lot of money was wasted under the last government.”

Parliament agreed to record the motion.

Translation by Khine Thazin Han