The parliament house witnessed some feisty and sometimes acrimonious debate on June 8 as deputies for and against the pan-national express railroad argued their cases.
Tran Tien Canh of the northern Ha Nam Province, who had joined a team to inspect express railways in China, sparked some testy moments when expressing support for the project. He said: "People having an express railway are those who have high IQ levels."
Quick came the response from Nguyen Minh Thuyet of Lang Son Province: "To be honest with the assembly, my IQ is low, so I am definitely not supporting the project."
Luong Phan Cu of Dak Nong Province, who is also Vice chairman of the National Assembly (NA)'s Social Affairs Committee, felt investing in the railroad project was necessary and should be sped up.
Citing China's construction of 6,552 kilometers of express railroad from 2004 to 2009, he said Vietnam should not delay the project.
"We have learnt many lessons about development of transportation systems and infrastructure during the reform process and one of them is that sluggish moves can damage socioeconomic development. Investment in transportation has not kept pace with development and this has led to widespread traffic gridlocks," he said.
Cu also said Vietnam has the "advantage of a long coastline and warm weather all year round, especially the central region with warm and beautiful beaches like sleeping beauties waiting to be awakened.
"With an express railway running through 20 coastal provinces in the central region, the fairies will awaken and the treasures [of tourism] will be exploited," he said.
Thuyet of Lang Son Province responded again: "It is such a romantic metaphor. But I am really worried about the first words from the fairy after waking up. She may ask: "˜Honey! Where's the money?' It would get really dangerous then."
Thuyet also criticized the government for saying that too much investment in road transportation has increased the number of personal vehicles and worsened traffic gridlocks and accidents.
"I want to question if we have focused too much on developing road transportation. We can clearly see people in many places facing great difficulties, including those in Kon Tum Province having to cross the Po Ko River by sliding on a cable," he said.
Deputy Vu Quang Hai of Hung Yen Province in the north also opposed the railroad project over concerns about its debt implications. He said he was worried about the impact on constituents if he gave the thumbs up for it.
"Initial calculation is a total investment of $56 billion, but this could double in reality, then how would we repay our debt?" he asked.
Deputy Nguyen Van Thuan, chairman of the NA Law Committee, suggested that the project should be delayed until 2020 when Vietnam becomes a strong industrialized country. "Our descendants will be better and more intelligent when they decide to implement the project."
He was also concerned about the actual number of passengers who would use the bullet train. He called attention to several projects that failed to be as effective as expected, including the Ho Chi Minh Highway in the central region, Cai Lan Port in the northern Quang Ninh Province and the plan to boost the sugar industry.
Nguyen Duc Kien, the NA vice chairman, closed the session by saying the NA Standing Committee will continue to collect opinions about the project and forward them to deputies before it is voted on at the NA session on June 19.
Last month, Japanese ambassador to Vietnam, Mitsuo Sakaba, had said Vietnam should build the Hanoi-Ho Chi Minh City express railway section by section instead of the whole route at once.
A survey conducted by Japan International Cooperation Agency between 2007 and 2009 stressed that the railroad's potential passengers would be those travelling short distances, like from Hanoi to the north-central province of Thanh Hoa.
The $55.8 billion project is expected to shorten the north-south railroad traveling time to six hours from the current 29 hours, will be constructed on a total area of 4,170 hectares, forcing 9,480 households to relocate and another 7,049 to lose part or all their arable land.