High-speed railway not a priority, say lawmakers

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The planned express railway between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City is necessary, but should not receive investment priority in the near future, deputies said at a National Assembly meeting on Friday (May 21).


Nguyen Minh Thuyet, representative from the northern province of Lang Son, said the project, which was divided into two phases with the first to be completed in 2020 and the second 15 years later, was estimated to cost US$56 billion.


This was a very large sum in the context of the country overspending its budget by 5-7 percent every year, he said.


Vietnam is also looking to launch its first nuclear power plant in 2014 with a total investment of $36 billion, Thuyet noted, saying the desire for megaprojects seems to be based on trying to keep up with the Joneses.


Agreeing with Thuyet, Phung Thanh Kiem also from Lang Son said Vietnam must identify which kind of transportation should be given priority.


"It's true that we need to invest in the project, but it's not an urgent one," Kiem said.


Representative Ha Thanh Toan from the Mekong Delta city of Can Tho said people tended to choose planes for long distance travel and road transport for short distances while sea transportation was efficient for carrying goods.


Vietnam therefore needs to invest in other areas instead of the high-speed railway at the moment, Toan said.


Shorter sections


Deputy Dang Van Khanh from Hanoi, meanwhile, suggested the National Assembly approve a high-speed rail line from Hanoi to the central town of Vinh and another one from HCMC to the central coastal town of Nha Trang, instead of a 1,570-kilometer route running from the capital to the southern hub.


According to Khanh, two shorter lines will cover a total length of 664 kilometers and need an investment of $21 billion, which is suitable for Vietnam's current situation.


Other sections can be approved later when the country's economy gets better, he said.


Nguyen Dang Trung and Tran Du Lich, representatives from HCMC, agreed with Khanh, saying by building smaller lines, Vietnam can put one into use after completion, while working on another, instead of waiting for a long time to finish a long route and then wait even longer to recoup investment.


The National Assembly's Economic Committee on Thursday estimated that it would take at least 45 years to get back the investment in the railway, as against ten years for what it called an "effective" project.

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