Vietnam urged to defer launch of costly railway project

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Japan is keen to export its special products and technologies like the bullet train, but Japanese officials have more than a few concerns about the feasibility of Vietnam's ambitious north-south express railway.

The Japanese government will always be willing to cooperate with Vietnam in constructing the railway but it should be constructed in stages instead of all at once, said Mitsuo Sakaba, Japanese ambassador to Vietnam.

Based on an agreement between Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe on Japan's cooperation in constructing the railway, the Japan International Cooperation Agency has surveyed Vietnam's transport since 2007, Sakaba told the media in Hanoi on May 27.

The study found not many passengers will choose the express railway to travel between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City because it takes just two hours to travel by air, while the train would take six hours. The train ticket would not be much cheaper either.

The report also said that from 2030-2035, the railway would only be useful for potential passengers traveling short distances, like Hanoi-Thanh Hoa, Hanoi-Vinh, Vinh-Hue, or Vinh-Da Nang.

On May 26, Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun reported that Japan's plan to export the Shinkansen railway system to Vietnam appeared to be a done deal but that infrastructure obstacles had arisen. However, the question of whether the country really needs a high-speed railway remains and is consistently being asked by those in the Vietnamese National Assembly, the country's parliament.

If the Shinkansen system is adopted, Vietnam expects to cover about 70 percent of the US$55.8 billion in construction costs or roughly $37.2 billion, consisting of Japanese foreign aid and loans from the Asian Development Bank making up the remaining 30 percent.

During a visit to Vietnam in early May, Japan's transport minister Seiji Maehara warned Vietnamese officials that their current plan to start operations in 10 years was too hasty.

Transport Minister Seiji Maehara on May 3 called for Vietnam to be flexible when detailing its plans for the railway project in order to secure Japan's financial support, Japanese Kyodo newspaper reported on the same day.

Maehara told his Vietnamese counterpart Ho Nghia Dung during their meeting in Hanoi that the Japanese government would consider the amount of Japanese yen loans if Vietnam is flexible with its plan to build the railway.

He also told reporters that he had urged [Ho Nghia] Dung to shorten the planned operational length of the railway and delay its launch.

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