Train and bus projects drag in Vietnam’s congested big cities

By Dinh Muoi - Mai Vong, Thanh Nien News

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The construction site of a terminal for Ho Chi Minh City's first metro line in District 1 / PHOTO: DIEP DUC MINH
While the government continues to push public transportation to reduce traffic congestion in big cities, infrastructure projects in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City have slowed to a crawl.
In HCMC, home to nearly ten million people, authorities planned to open seven metro lines and three monorails by 2020.
But, most of the projects are still in the planning stages, with the exception of the first line which will connect Ben Thanh Ward in District 1 and Suoi Tien in District 9.
Construction began on the 19.7-kilometer track in August 2012, some seven years later than originally planned.
Explaining the delays, Le Hong Ha, vice director of the HCMC Management Authority for Urban Railways (MAUR), told the press at the time that the project’s cost had ballooned.
The initial estimate of US$1.1 billion, has skyrocketed to over $2.4 billion due to inflation and technical adjustments.
More than 88 percent of the funds are to be provided through Japanese official development assistance, and the rest from HCMC’s coffers.
Construction was scheduled for completion in 2017, but Le Khac Huynh, vice director of MAUR told Thanh Nien that the train won't be ready to ride until 2018, the earliest expected completion date.
Indeed, work on the project has been delayed by slow site clearance – as of February, city authorities had yet to resettle 18 families living on the planned site, and were having problems major problems with their contractors.
At one point, the Japanese joint-venture of Shimizu – Maeda was chosen to build the underground portion of the track. But, MAUR later wanted to re-organize the bidding, because the joint-venture had offered a price higher than the approved cost and refused to reduce it.
MAUR’s proposal, however, was not accepted by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which said a new bidding process would take time. JICA also refused to guarantee that another Japanese company would be chosen for the project. Under the special terms of the ODA agreement, the project’s contractors must be Japanese companies.
In February, the municipal authorities asked the government to proceed with the same joint-venture.
Work was expected to begin on a second metro line linking Ben Thanh with Tham Luong Ward in District 12, this month--four months behind schedule.
The 11.3-kilometer track was supposed to go into operation in 2019 at the earliest, instead of 2018 as initially planned.
In the meantime, the HCMC Department of Transport signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with a joint-venture between Vietnamese and Malaysian companies to build the first monorail line in April 2008.
The project has been halted due to disagreements between the investors and the municipal authorities about the investment plan.
For the second and third lines, the city signed an MOU with Italian – Thai Development Plc. in 2011 only to have the MAUR propose canceling the agreement, after the investor’s financial plan failed to comply with Vietnamese regulations, Huynh said.
The city’s transport department is also reviewing a proposed bus rapid transit (BRT) route between the city’s western bus station in Binh Tan District and the first metro line’s station in District 2’s Cat Lai Ward.
The line’s construction is scheduled to begin next year with a projected investment of $156 million from the World Bank.
Hanoi's transport woes
The same sluggishness has plagued projects in the capital, where five metro lines were once planned by 2020 and another three were lined up over the next 10 years.
So far work has only begun on two lines and progress has been very slow.
Construction began on a 12.5-kilometer track between Tu Liem District’s Nhon and Hanoi Railway Station in September 2010 and was scheduled for completion in 2016.
The project was later delayed to September 2017, and again till November 2018, due to slow site clearance, according to the latest calculations from the project’s consultant.
Tu Liem District authorities have only approved a compensation plan for 42 of 143 stops on the first stage of the project while only 13 percent of the site for the fourth stage of the project has been cleared.
The project's second phase – constructing on mid-way stops – has been halted due to a lack of a consultant since a contract with the French consulting company SYSTRA ended last November.
Moreover, the consultant has demanded €3 million (US$4.12 million) in compensation due to delays, and has proposed raising the contract value from €22 million to €43 million for extended consultation.
The project investor is negotiating with SYSTRA for €1.3 million in compensation and an additional amount for ongoing consultancy.
Slow site clearance and inexperienced management has also stifled progress on a metro line between Dong Da District’s Cat Linh Ward and Ha Dong District, which broke ground in April 2010.
After two years of work, the line's projected cost shot up by $339 million.
Capital city authorities also planned to build a BRT network consisting of eight lines by 2030, but work has only begun on a single line connecting Kim Ma and Yen Nghia bus stations.
The 14.7-kilometer line was due to become operational in the first quarter of next year.

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