by Chi Lan
The heavy rain on Tuesday morning last week once again focused media attention on the elevated mass transit system and the misery of commuters caught up in the seemingly endless traffic jams plaguing Xuan Thuy Street, Ha Noi City. Adding to the bedraggled misery of those caught in the snarl-up, was the blinking of red brake lights as motorcyclists and car drivers edged forward slowly,then braked.
The cause of the mayhem is of course the yet-to-be completed Nhon – Ha Noi elevated railway (Route No 3), work on which began two years ago.
Route No 3 is not solely responsible for the gridlock that grips the city (particularly when it rains) – the elevated train from Ha Dong District to Cat Linh Street in Dong Da District (Route No 2) has also brought its fair share of misery to motorists in the city.
Few doubt that a mass transit system is long overdue in the capital, and when the elevated railway was first mooted, it was claimed by our leaders that the sky train would meet at least 45 per cent of public transport demand in the capital. The sad reality is that, rather than alleviating the capital's chronic congestion, the rapid transport system is actually adding to it.
I remember the feeling of amazement I felt on my first trip to Thailand when I travelled on the Bangkok Mass Transit System, commonly known as the BTS or the Skytrain. I was taken aback by just how clean and convenient it was. The trains were quiet and confortable; even climbing the stairs to the train stations made me feel that I was getting some much-needed exercise. And I remember longing for the day when Viet Nam could boast of such a transport system.
Five years later, I feel only disappointment and frustration when I think of the elevated railway being built in my own city. Instead of making getting about the city more convenient and safer, the mass-transit project, which is years behind schedule, has brought chaos and gridlock to Xuan Thuy, Hoang Cau, O Cho Dua but also Nguyen Trai, Thanh Xuan streets.
Route No 2 is running two years late – the latest official report said the project, which was due to completed last year, will be finished next June. Meanwhile, it is estimated Ha Noi's mass transit system will be open to the public some eight years after promised.
A number of sayings come to mind: The worst is yet to come – or to put it another way, things have to get worse before they can get better (or things can ONLY get better).
On November 6 last year, a man was killed when struck by a steel girder dropped by a crane working at the site of the sky train on Tran Phu Street in Ha Dong District. Two others were injured. The tragedy caused public outrage, and the authorities temporarily suspended work on the route while a safety review was conducted. When work resumed, pedestrians would pray for their own wellbeing when walking near sky train construction sites – to little avail.
Barely a month after the first accident, sky train scaffolding on the same street collapsed onto a taxi. Thankfully, the four people inside escaped unhurt. Construction work was again put on hold.
The latest incident occurred on August 25 this year when a 2.5 metre-long steel bar was dropped onto the bonnet of a four-seater car on Ha Dong's Quang Trung Street. Again the passengers were lucky to escape without injury, and again, the authorities ordered a halt to construction work.
Transport Minister Dinh La Thang blamed the accidents on the incompetence of the Chinese contractors, who acknowledged they were at fault. He also demanded that the deputy director of the project's management board be sacked. Tactlessly, he then unveiled a plan to buy 13 made-in-China trains to be used on route No 2. I like others, was astonished to hear the news.
It was easy to understand why people were outraged at the decision: Not only were they appalled by the chaos and the delays that had beset the project, but they were dubious about the quality of the rolling stock being supplied by Chinese companies associated with the mega project.
Thang got a lot of flak as a result. To justify his announcement he said his hands were tied because "those trains were part of the ODA-funding agreement". Which said it all. It was a quid pro quo. Viet Nam wanted money to build its urban railway system, while China wanted to create jobs for its nationals and sell trains and machinery to Viet Nam.
Thang might well be feeling the heat, but what about the signatories to the ODA agreement? Did public safety ever cross their minds? — VNS