Train crash highlights poor railway management in Vietnam

By Mai Ha – Hoang Long, Thanh Nien News

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A train derailed in Nam Dinh Province on the morning of September 19, 2014 after hitting a truck parked on the tracks. Photo: Hoang Long A train derailed in Nam Dinh Province on the morning of September 19, 2014 after hitting a truck parked on the tracks. Photo: Hoang Long

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A train derailed after hitting a parked container truck in the northern province of Nam Dinh on Friday morning, leaving the conductor and his assistant injured.
Authorities blamed an illegal road built over the tracks. Many such roads had caused most of the railway accidents in the country, despite a plan in 2007 to fix them all, they said. 
The accident occurred at around 2:15 am on Friday while Chu Huy Thang was delivering rice to a Viet Trung Company warehouse.
Five minutes after Thang parked over the tracks, the train collided with the tail end of his vehicle.
The train's locomotive was thrown across National Highway 10 which ran parallel to the track.
All the 315 train passengers survived intact.
Railway officials cleared the mess on Saturday afternoon. More than 1,000 passengers were driven by car to the next closest station.
Local officials said Viet Trung built the road in 2005 to facilitate rice delivery to its warehouse.
Officials closed the road many times but the company kept opening it again.
Bui Van Tuu, director of the Center for Railway Disaster and Accident Response at the state-run Vietnam Railways sidestepped Thanh Nien’s questions about whether corrupt officials had protected the company.
“That needs to be looked into,” Tuu said.
He said four such roads were opened over tracks by other companies in the area.
After the accident, Nguyen Van Doanh, deputy head of the Railway Authority at the Ministry of Transport  ordered Nam Dinh traffic officials to close all the roads except for one and build a warning fence over that crossing.
Doanh said 70 percent of Vietnam's railway accidents occur at crossroads, and in more than 80 percent of those cases, the roads were illegally built but persisted for years.
Last July, a train collided with a bus at a railway crossing in the northern province of Bac Giang, severely injuring 11 bus passengers.
That happened a month after a train hit a truck at another crossing in the south-central province of Phu Yen.
The truck driver was severely injured.
In February, another crash in Hanoi killed a woman who tried to cross railway tracks at a crossroads without a barrier or signal lights.
The government in 2007 formulated a plan to clear all roads over train tracks, build safer alternatives and erect fences to crossings by the end of 2010.
Doanh said 4,500 roads were built by residents across the railway throughout the country and only 1,600 of them have been fenced, most remain unguarded.
He said only around 100 kilometers of frontage roads were built and the country needs four times as many.
He cited a shortage of funds and relocation problems to account for the slow progress.
“The ground clearance phase has conflicted with locals’ interest.”
Tuu said the transport ministry also wants each city/province to manage the railway crossings in their area to make sure residents don’t keep opening new roads when the ministry closes others.
But the local governments and the ministry have remained at odds over the budget for the management.

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