Tran Ngoc Thanh, President of the Viet Nam Railways' Member Board, talks to Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper about new programmes the sector plans to carry out in 2014.
Having been in the position of President of the Viet Nam Railways' Member Board for nine months, what do you think about the stumbling blocks holding back the business of the railway industry?
Recently, large investments were poured into the railway industry, but they cannot do much when the subsidy system still exists, causing an inactive and sluggish performance. As we can see, the need for a change in the industry is not due to pressure by any outsider, but actually comes from the inside, for the railway's own survival in the future.
What and how will the railway change?
We have set three specific targets for change, including: punctuality, safety and efficiency. Still, what matters most is the convenience for all customers. Customers will only ride with us when we are good enough.
We will survey the market and calculate the market share to make decisions about investing in stations, altering rates and whether to increase the frequency of trains so customers can have numerous options to choose from.
All trains running through stations located on densely populated routes must stop, including both SE1 and SE3 trains, though SE3 had never stopped before. The idea of one train stopping, with no need for the next one to stop, is a purely wrong subsidised notion.
Customers are god. They will only set foot on the trains if they are sure that they can both go and return later by rail transport.
What should be done to achieve these goals?
Now we are focusing on improving the infrastructure in order to shorten the travel times between stations, hence having more time to stop at terminals, which will better serve the customers. The more customers we have, the more money we earn, which will be used for further investment in the future.
In 2014, we will receive new trains, as well as upgrade the existing ones to provide not only safe, but clean and convenient transportation.
Is there sufficient money to do all the work you mentioned?
We have to efficiently take advantage of the infrastructure at first, then invest according to priorities, though the hope of there being a large investment for a comprehensive change remains quite vague.
So what specific changes can customers expect to see in 2014?
In 2014 and the coming years, some innovations will be made. For example, conveniences including waiting rooms, shelters and overpasses will be integrated into the stations.
Friendly customer service and online ticketing systems are also expected to be implemented in 2014, and customers will be able to buy tickets online and via smartphones.
Illegal ticket selling was addressed before and found difficult to tackle, but online ticketing will help prevent illegal selling, especially during peak season like Tet holiday.
The online system is now being put in place, so the actual cost is still unknown, yet this is surely a must-do thing.
Trains will become eye-catching and more punctual, with better customer service. There will be various food options, with quality guaranteed at reasonable prices. Also, train frequency will be increased, so more customers can be picked up at stations.
Different types of sanitary disposal equipment has been installed on trains since October last year, and will be evaluated in 2014 to decide which is most suitable for use.
Train tickets are criticised for being overpriced. What do you think about this?
The railway is public transportation, which means we have to calculate such services as how many soft seat cabins and how many hard seats to provide in order to extend ticket options according to customers' needs and affordability.
It will be another story to compare the most costly train ticket against a budget air ticket. We can't possibly apply the price of the most expensive bed couchette to the cheapest hard seats.
The soft seat tickets for the Ha Noi – Ho Chi Minh City route, priced at VND1.7 million (US$81), were sold out, yet we kept selling hard seats that are only worth hundreds of dong. What we do is impossible for any other transportation provider. Even budget airlines are not able to sell standard tickets between VND300, 000 - 400, 000 (US$14.5–19), as we do.
Do you believe that these goals will be accomplished?
Some changes actually have been made since last year, and results are expected to be seen in 2014. When the time comes, if the efficiency and the service quality still have not resulted in better performance, it will automatically mean that the whole plan has failed. The leader who is in charge should then leave his position for a more capable person. That is the culture and the determination for the railway to become more innovative.—VNS