A Vietnam Railways SE3 train seen leaving Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/ Giang Huy.
Though demand for travel and transportation has grown exponentially in recent years, the railroad has witnessed a sharp decline in popularity since its heydays a few decades ago.
Some 10.4 million people traveled by trains in 1990, accounting for 3 percent of the total number of commuters using all modes of transport.
Thirty years later, the number plummeted to 4.7 million passengers or a mere 0.2 percent of commuters, according to the General Statistics Office (GSO).
Freight transport by rail too has declined though not so dramatically.
The volume of freight transport grew at 10.3 per cent annually during the decade between 1991 and 2000. In the next 10 years the rate plummeted to 2.3 percent before it declined at 4.7 percent in 2011-20.
Other modes of transport meanwhile grew at 7.3-11.7 percent a year.
Outdated infrastructure is a major reason for the decline in popularity of trains. Of Vietnam’s 3,163 kilometers of track, 84 percent is one meter wide, a gauge that has long been abandoned in most countries.
They allow speeds of just 50-60 kph for freight trains and 80-90 kph for passenger trains, perceived to be a drawback.
In developed countries, trains travel at speeds of 150-200 kph on traditional tracks and even 300 kph and higher on high-speed tracks.
Low budget for railway projects partially results in the sector’ falling behind, according to the GSO. Only 3 percent of the transport infrastructure investment was for the railway network.
Vietnam has over 3,000 km of track, none of it high speed.