By Zin Oo, Khin Yadanar / Photo: Thiha Sithu
With the blow of its air horn, a solitary train enters Yangon Central Railway Station. There are not many passengers aboard as people have refrained from traveling during the spread of COVID-19 virus, except for important occasions. Nonetheless, the mighty locomotives continue to run for those who still needed to travel.
In addition to ensuring public Transport and private vehicles can continue traveling normally, the Ministry of Transport and Communications also had to develop communication strategies that fit in with the changing dynamics of their 4th year in the civilian government administration, especially in the early part of 2020.
The ministry operates under the motto, ‘Establishing an effective, modern and affordable Transport system’ and designed the National Transport Master Plan (2015-2040) to realize that goal.
Chin State’s gate to the skies
Situated on high elevation and surrounded by mountains and valleys, Chin State has historically been hard to access but all of that may change once the construction of Surbung Airport in Falam is complete.
“The Union Government approved for the airport, which can host ATR-72 aircraft, back in 2015-2016 financial year and we are planning to test aircraft landing in May,” said Union Minister for Transport and Communications U Thant Sin Maung.
Over 2 million flights
The transport ministry’s statistics show air travel increased exponentially during the fourth year of the incumbent government’s administration. Both international and domestic flights in 2016 added up to about 9,200,000 but rose to 11,200,000 in 2019, an increase of 2 million flights.
Myanmar National Airlines (MNA) was transformed into a cooperation in 2013-2014 financial year to penetrate the international airline market. There were 1,623,888 airline passengers to and from Myanmar in 2018-2019 financial year, and 664,083 passengers in 2019-2020 financial year so far.
MNA had 3 Boeing planes, 2 Embraer planes, 5 ATR planes, 4 Caravan planes and 2 Beech Craft planes in 2016 and added 4 Boeing planes, 2 Embraer planes, 11 ATR planes and 2 Caravan planes by 2020, with domestic flights to 28 towns and international flights to Singapore, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Hong Kong, Chengdu and Gaya.
There are 69 airports across Myanmar including NyaugU Airport and 33 airports that can handle international flights and 35 airports currently not in use. NyaungU Airport was upgraded and similar expansions had been made to airports in Myitkyina, Putao, Lashio, Mongset, Sittway, Loikaw and Manaung in the current government’s 4th year in office.
Tender auctions for Heho, Mawlamyine and Kawthoung airports were called with the PPP system. KBZ Co and two Japanese companies have signed a contract to upgrade Heho Airport and discussion is under way to ink an agreement for Mawlamyine Airport.
Union Minister U Thant Sin Maung said they plan to upgrade the Thandwe Airport to accommodate international travelers and expand their landing strips to meet international standards in 2020-2021 financial year. They are also cooperating with the Japanese government to upgrade Hantawaddy Airport with a feasibility study in the works.
“Telephone density was 86.5% in 2015-2016 financial year but has since reached 147.46%”, said the U Thant Sin Maung. “In a population of 52 million, there are 79 million active SIM cards meaning teledensity is 47% over compared to the active population. Essentially, it means 94 out of every 100 people are able to use a smartphone.”
As of 2019-2020 financial year, there are a total of 79,734,998 active telephones across the nation, covering 94% of the population and 62% of national geography. MPT, MyTel, Telenor and Ooredoo are granted Nation Telecommunication License and other four licenses are granted to 139 domestic companies and 66 foreign companies to work in the telecommunication sector.
The number of mobile centers in Myanmar has increased with 10,000 to 23,000 telecom towers constructed and the bandwidth speed of 79 million users to world has increased from 55.82 Gbps to 1144.30 Gbps. Fibre networks also increased from 23,000 to 60,000.
MR for everyone
Myanma Railways has 33 fast trains, 44 postal trains, 48 passenger trains, 17 short-trip trains and 203 circular and outskirt trains, bringing it to a total of 345 locomotives. The train tracks for Mandalay-Myitkyina, Yangon-Pyay, Bago-Mawlamyine and Yangon circular railway are being upgraded. Phase 1 of Yangon-Mandalay railway upgrade focuses on the 256km Yangon-Toungoo track and is implemented over a 5-year period from 2017 to 2021 using a loan of Yen 112.709 billion from the Japanese government.
Phase 2 will focus on the 351km-long Toungoo-Mandalay railway and implemented over a 7-year period from 2017 to 2023 using a loan of Yen 207.281 billion from the Japanese government. The advisory group that won the tender auction for the project on 22 May 2018 created a detailed design from May 2018 to September 2019 and have called 10 tender auctions to implement the design.
The most important part of upgrading the railways was installing modern stoplights at the railroad crossings. Currently 25 crossings have been outfitted with 5 remaining, and 12 old pedestrian overpasses were fixed and 35 new ones aimed to complete construction this May.
If the entire Yangon circular railway upgrade project is complete, it will be possible to accommodate 85,000 passengers daily, transport 263,000 passengers to their destinations and increase train speeds from 48km/h to 60km/h, reducing the 2.50 hrs for completing the entire round trip to just 50 minutes.
Purchasing locomotives and coaches from Japan have been postponed to 2023 due to the Tokyo Olympics. The Japanese government will supply 32 RBE coaches and 5 have already arrived with 21 to be delivered this June, said the Union Minister.
“The most dramatic change in the railway sector is the maintenance aspect,” said U Thant Sin Maung. “All the work used to be done with human labour but we are now using a semi-mechanized system and that has considerably sped things up. If 70 units for the system arrive from Japan within this year then we will be able to supply one machine to each maintenance crew.”
The ministry has acquired US$ 45 million in the South Korean EDCF loan to purchase 100 new passenger coaches. They have currently purchased materials to construct 10 upper class coaches and 10 normal coaches in the first batch, and 10 upper class coaches and SKD car bodies in the second batch. The parts are at Myitnge locomotive factory and the remaining parts will arrive within 2020.
In addition, an interest-free loan of Yuan 80 million from the Chinese government will be used to purchase 28 new passenger coaches. This project was signed by the Chinese President during his state visit to Myanmar in January and will be completed in 2020.
Increase of licensed vehicles
According to statistics from the Road Transport Administration Department, the number of licensed vehicles has increased from 5.5 million in March 2016 to 7.3 million in December 2019, showing an increase of 2.8 million licensed vehicles over the three-year period.
However, the rise in the number of vehicles also mean an increase in road accidents. Back in 2013, if there were 10,000 vehicles then there was a 9.2% chance of traffic accidents and now in 2019 it is 7.26%. There were 3700 traffic accidents in 2013 and there are 5300 now but compared to the increase in the number of vehicles, this is a drop in accident rates.
Improving water transport
The ministry implemented 186 processes to prevent erosion of embankments and 8 projects to improve water transport along the Ayeyawady, Chindwin, Sittoung and Mu rivers in 2016-2017 financial year and performed 238 erosion prevention processes and 18 water transport improvements in 2019-2020 financial year.
Over the four-year period, the minister has performed 68 water transport improvement projects and 964 erosion prevention processes. Some of the processes were performed by winners of tender auctions and failed processes had been remedied, said U Thant Sin Maung.
Setting up 42 ports
Myanmar has a coastline measuring 1385 miles with 9 ports along it. Yangon port is the central port and accounts for 90% of the nation’s international sea trade.
Nine more ports were constructed within the current government’s administration so that there are now 42 ports in Yangon. This increased the number of TEU containers traded in 2015-2016 financial year from 850,000 to 1.1 million in 2018-2019 financial year, an increase of 10 million tons of cargo traded to 19 million tons.
300,000 tons of rice were transported in 2015-2016 financial year and has increased to 1.2 million tons in 2019. The Union Minister said they are negotiating with Japan to acquire loans for additional ports.
The transport ministry and other ministries have been using the Government Personal Management System (GPMS) as part of the Myanmar e-Governance Master Plan designed in August 2016. This also includes using the Electronic Data Management System (EDMS) to utilize emails extensively.
In 2018-2019, 20,000 Windows licenses and 17,000 Microsoft Office licenses were purchased for government ministries, emails addresses were made more secure and the push to have government departments and the public convert to Unicode has reached 80% success.
Old to new post
Myanmar’s postal services began back in the colonial era but has been improved and upgraded to meet modern needs and standards. There are currently 1,389 post offices across the nation and 841 of them now provide financial services. The postal service has been slowly improving itself to be beneficial to the public.
This is evidenced by the fact that while the postal service made a loss of K12 billion in 2015-2016 financial year, it was reduced to K2.7 billion in 2018-2019 financial year.
Myanmar’s postal service also strove to improve online shopping and mobile money experiences in the country and has become a truly beneficial service to the public.
More weather equipment
There are currently 158 automatic weather stations, 128 manned weather stations, 17 agricultural weather stations, 8 aviation weather stations, 71 water level monitoring stations, 44 water level estimation stations and 21 seismological centers providing updated weather information in real time to the public.
“All of this information concerns meeting the needs of the public and direct services provided by the ministry,” said Union Minister U Thant Sin Maung. “There are many other processes and services our ministry does that benefits that people of Myanmar. However it may be, the Ministry of Transport and Communication has always and will continue to work for the benefit of the nation’s development and for the citizens of this country. (Translated by Pen Dali)