Sunday, August 20, 2017

The sham tram

The damning planning of the Kyangin-Pakokku railway project.

Nay Aung/The Myanmar TimesNay Aung/The Myanmar Times

The event had made the front page of the Global New Light of Myanmar. On February 26, 2011, the last leg of the Kyangin-Pakokku railway project was finally completed. The construction had started in 2006 as part of a grand project to connect the western part of Magwe to Rakhine State.

Commander Brig-Gen Soe Lwin, the chairman of the regional Peace and Development Council branch, opened the new line with much fanfare. Flanked by three government ministers, he announced with gravitas that thanks to the new railway, “the west bank of Ayeyarwaddy River would witness sector-wise development.”

Nay Aung/The Myanmar TimesNay Aung/The Myanmar Times

After having cut a few ribbons, the commander praised the staff of Myanmar Railway and shook the hands of hundreds of locals who were visibly happy of his visit--at least, this is what the pictures published by the government’s mouth-piece suggested.

For today, the mood has curdled and turned sour.

“This railway project has provided no benefits for our township. Instead, it has brought troubles to all farmers in the region,” says U Than Tint Aung, a resident from Yawsu – a village along the railway.

Nay Aung/The Myanmar TimesNay Aung/The Myanmar Times

If this is a mistake, like the farmers say, it is a long one. The railway is 300 miles long (483km), but today, trains only run along the 25 miles-long (40km) portion from Minbu to Pwintbyu.

“The main reason for stopping the service was the meager number of passengers,” said U Min Thein Tun, project manager of Myanmar Railway. In fact, locals prefer the road to the rail in these parts.

Nay Aung/The Myanmar TimesNay Aung/The Myanmar Times

In June 2016, a memo emanating from Hluttaw revealed that 4000 acres of land were confiscated for the realisation of the project. Some got some compensation, but others were not so fortunate.

Even the farmers who did keep their lands are not exactly in the luckiest of spots.

“We’ve cultivated on the bank of Mone creek for our whole life and we’ve never suffered crop damage. But since the railway was constructed, we ‘ve become the victims of seasonal floods,” say Daw Than, a 92-year-old farmer from Pwintbyu township.

Many of the creeks irrigating the land originate from the hills in the west of the Magwe Region. The railway which was constructed parallel to the Ayeyarwaddy River blocks the flow of the waterways, acting as a dam – depriving crops of the water they need during dry season and flooding them during the monsoon.

A bridge too far

Pwintbyu township in Magwe was one of the most-affected areas during the 2015 floods. For the locals, this is partly due to one bridge constructed over the Mone creek for the passing of the train.

According to experts, the bridge is an architectural non-sense.

“The bridge over the Mone is an absolute mistake,” says a retired engineer who worked on the project. “It should have been one long-bridge, but to cut down the cost of the bridge, it was built in two parts, with one pillar standing on a purpose-built island in the middle of the water. Consequently, the flow of the river is disturbed: earth is deposited on one side, while the other is threatened by erosion.”

Mistakes could have been avoided if the locals had been consulted. As of today, there is no plan to revive the railway to nowhere.

But if they had a say in it, locals suggest that the numerous abandoned stations and train tracks would make for great backdrops for movies theme around the end of days.

Translation by Zaw Nyunt