Nation's transport experts must be brave, innovative
by Tran Dinh Ba, PhD
For 25 years, Viet Nam has embarked on the Doi Moi (Renewal) Path. Much has been achieved in various sectors, but with the exception of the transport sector. This exception is an open wound involving about 1,000 Vietnamese professors.
Viet Nam's road transport system criss-crosses the nation with two main arteries running from northernmost Lang Son Province to Ca Mau cape, the most southern province. These are National Road No 1 and the Ho Chi Minh Highway.
With 3,200km of coastline, we have 168 sea ports, more than those of big powers like the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Japan. In addition, Viet Nam has successfully launched its own satellite (VINASAT). Our telecommunication technology has also made considerable progress and provided wide coverage of the three Indo-Chinese nations and has even penetrated into Latin America.
That's not all, Viet Nam ranks second in rice exports and first in coffee. Yet, when we talk about transport, I'm afraid to say Viet Nam is among nations sitting at the bottom.
In the years of renewal, there has been a downward curve in the development of the rail sector. Many rail accidents have been reported, including dozens of deaths. Worse still, rail transport can respond to only 6 per cent of demand, far worse than transport on inland waterways.
Regarding airlines, Viet Nam has enjoyed many advantages compared with other ASEAN countries in terms of infrastructure. We now have more than 50 airports, nine of which are of international standards. Yet airlines carry a modest 10 million passengers and 140,000 tonnes of cargo a year, about 0.3 per cent of the total market segment. This is far behind other ASEAN states, including Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore.
The ocean shipping sector is also a problem. It is in debt and its market segment in the transport sector is only about 10 per cent.
If we add rail, airlines and shipping together, we find they can meet only 28 per cent of transport demand. This means the transport burden is shifted to road transport (65 per cent) and inland waterways.
However, in reality the land allocated for road development is limited while more and more cars, vans, motorbikes and other private means of transport have developed rapidly. This is the root cause of Viet Nam's transport chaos.
Viet Nam is proud to have about 1,000 people holding post-graduate degrees in transport. But I'm afraid to say none of the doctorate theses I have seen focus on economic airline accounting or on widening rail lines to match the international standard of 1,435mm.
Transport accidents in our country have spiralled to an alarming level. More than 12,000 people die and thousands are injured every year, causing economic losses of more than US$1 billion. Maybe the 1,000 highly qualified professionals should be partly to blame for this.
We live in an era of modern science and technology. Vietnamese shipping engineers can make big sea-going vessels, yet we have no one questioning the one-metre width of our few rail lines.
Viet Nam has many universities and institutes specialising in transport. Many of our transport professionals were also educated abroad. Yet, many complain that if changes are to be made in rail widths, rail operations will be disrupted for up to three years.
During the war for national salvation, many Vietnamese, including transport professors and doctors volunteered to go to the front. They were even willing to sacrifice their own lives to keep supplies flowing. Yet, now in peace time, we're facing chaos!
In a letter sent to his staff to mark the 66th anniversary of the transport sector, the Minister of Transport, Dinh La Thang, promoted a new slogan decision for the transport sector to become "brave, intelligent and innovative". In my own opinion, that is a historical mandate and guideline for the ministry in the new era.
It is high time for us professors and doctors to put public interest above all. It is time of us to come up with arguments to put the transport sector back on track. Let us pool our efforts to solve the current transport situation.
That's the responsibility of the influential 1,000. We should be honoured and get on with the job. — VNS
The author is from the Viet Nam Railway Transport Society of the Viet Nam Economic Association.