Monday, September 25, 2017

Myanma Railways to upgrade circle line with Japanese loan

State-owned Myanma Railways will receive US$200 million in development financing from Japan to upgrade Yangon’s circular railway line and has set an ambitious target of tripling commuter traffic, an official said yesterday.

A commuter waits for the train at Pazungdaung Station in Southeastern Yangon Photo: Zarni Phyo / The Myanmar TimesA commuter waits for the train at Pazungdaung Station in Southeastern Yangon Photo: Zarni Phyo / The Myanmar Times

Every day 73,000 people use Yangon’s only train line, said Myanma Railways general manager U Htun Aung Thin. Once the railways are upgraded and new trains are running, he hopes this number can reach 263,000.

“By upgrading the route, crucially we can cut running times. It now takes 2 hours and 50 minutes for a train to complete the [46-kilometre or 28-mile] circuit, while stopping at 38 stations,” he

“We aim to reduce this to less than 2 hours. Trains can drive at 15 miles per hour at the moment but we hope to increase this to 26

Myanma Railways will also run more services, U Htun Aung Thin said. “Now commuters need to wait between 15 and 45 minutes to take the train, but we hope to reduce the wait to 10 or 12 minutes.”

Shorter wait times will be crucial to attract commuter traffic, which currently relies heavily on the city’s overstretched bus lines and congested roads.

Manual signaling will be replaced with automatic systems and Myanma Railways will buy 11 new six-carriage trains, U Htun Aung Thin said.

“We have signed an agreement to install automatic signals and to buy brand-new Diesel Electric Multiple Use (DEMU) carriages. Japan will give us a 24 billion yen ($206 million) overseas development assistance loan for that,” he added.

The Ministry of Transport and Communications will take charge of the project, which he hopes will be finished by June 2019, “depending on financing and the labour force”.

In the past, commuters relied on the circle line, but gradually they switched to buses, because the trains were old and did not run on time. Better trains will help relieve pressure on Yangon’s roads which have grown increasingly crowded over the past few years.

“Myanma Railways decided to upgrade the railway in collaboration with the Japan International Cooperation Agency study team,” U Htun Aung Thin said. JICA completed wide-reaching plans for urban development in Yangon in 2013 and 2014, including a transport master plan.

Finding the right fares will be important, he added. “We charge K100 per ticket regardless of the type of train. Because of this our earnings have fallen from K8 million to K7 million per day. So we need to consider all aspects of running the railway.