Record of 17th-day of 10th regular session of Second Amyotha Hluttaw

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Union Minister for Transport and Communications U Thant Sin Maung. Photo: MNA
Union Minister for Transport and Communications U Thant Sin Maung. Photo: MNA

(Continued from yesterday)

During the question and answer session of the 17th-day meeting of the 10th regular session of the Second Amyotha Hluttaw on 21 December 2018, U Pe Tin of Mon State constituency 6 raised a question asking whether there were plans to overcome the current losses and revitalize Myanma Railways to bring about public favor, to which Union
Minister for Transport and Communications U Thant Sin Maung replied.

Operating on own budgets
Union Minister U Thant Sin Maung: Secondly, we have planned not to operate on the whole Mandalay-Myitkyina railway track by only relying on loans. We are first tackling the Namhkam-Meza and Mawhan-Kadu tracks. They have sharp curves and a steep gradient. We contracted a Korean firm to survey the area. They suggested digging a new tunnel and building a new bridge. This will require us to build 4 new train stations. They told us the entire project will cost US$ 100 million so we renegotiated to include both tracks in the project.
Then there’s the Bago-Mawlamyine track. We’re proceeding this with our own budget. We started in 2016 and now we’ve gotten up to Mawlamyine. We’ve used short welded rails for the tracks and I admit they are not the best ones in the world. They ought to be able to handle a train at 50 miles per hour but since our traffic signals are not quite good yet we’ve opted not the increase the train speeds. We also have to construct a new bridge over Bilin creek after we lost one last year when the creek overflowed.

Foreign aid acquired with prudence
Regarding the Yangon-Pyay section, ADB understand our obstacles and offered their assistance to upgrade the road section. We estimated that the upgrade would cost US$ 60 million. But, just yesterday, they offered more funding for the project. We hired an Australian company to conduct the Pre-Feasibility Survey and ADB funded it. After the survey, we studied 434 bridges on the distance of 161 miles and we came to know that which bridges should be reconstructed and which bridges should be maintained. We are committed to carry out EIA and SIA at our best.
Regarding the Yangon circular ring road, Japanese government provided 660 million and proposed to upgrade the Yangon circular road. But we decided to get only 207 million and to upgrade signaling system and rolling stock which we cannot work. We asked them to give us just technical assistance such as engineers to supervise us upgrading the road.

Yangon Urban Mass Rapid Transit System
Let’s go to next topic of Yangon Urban Mass Rapid Transit System. I requested them in August 2016 to carry out feasibility study about the Urban Mass Rapid Transit included in the Yangon Urban Transport Master Plan as motor roads only cannot solve the traffic congestion.
The pre-feasibility-study is complete in August 2017. They proposed two ways: east-west road and north-south road. There would be gap of 27,000 passengers in the east-west road. So, when Yangon becomes Mega City in 2030s, we need to run trains with six coaches every three minutes. When we decided the implement the project, Japanese government offered to grant loan for the project.
But, we had to take into account possible ways which can avoid huge burden of debts and think about G-to-G system or PPP system. We have to take lessons from problems in some countries regarding PPP system.
We also considered the project to be implemented with G-to-G system and to be operated with the private system. We did another feasibility-study this year in detail. It was found that the gap of passengers can reach about 30,000 per hour in the south-west way. As traffic demand is high in Hlinethaya, we have chosen to start a phase-1 which includes the Hlinethaya-to-Toe Kyaung Kalay section and possible 13 exchange stations in Hlinethaya-to-Parami section. At present, we are implementing it as a phase-1.

Plan for Muse-Mandalay railroad
Muse-Mandalay, Road is 431 meters long. Lao built the same distance of road at the cost of US$5 billion in cooperation with China.
Muse-Mandalay road includes in the National Transport Master Plan and in the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor. It is also a section of the Trans Asia Rail Link linking Europe and Asia proposed by UNESCAP. At the same time, traffic demand is also high in the Muse-Mandalay Road and from 3,000 to 5,000 trucks are running per day between Muse and Mandalay.
Train service is more environmental friendly than cars. It can take only five hours from Mandalay to Muse. That’s why, we have conducted the feasibility-study about the rail road since last month.

Fixing signaling systems, railway ties
Our signaling system needs to be operated with modern system. We are still using the very primitive signaling system. We are working to operate the fully automatic system along the Yangon-Mandalay Road and Semi-Automatic system along the Yangon-Pyay and Yangon-Mawlamyine railroad. We requested the Australian company and the ADB to assist in implementing the
projects.
One of the reasons the railway tracks are in bad shape is because the railway ties were initially made with wood but when we transitioned to using concrete, we used Chinese designs and Indian designs based on where we got loans from first. The two designs don’t synch well. We are shifting our railroad teams from being fully manual to semi mechanized and for that we will be receiving 100 hand tie tampers within this year. I think the tertiary tracks will become a bit better.
Also, we have to construct dry ports since we have signed the Inter Governmental Agreement on Dry Port led by UNESCAP. The multimodal transport system will help lower the value of consequential supply chains. We have completed two dry ports and will encourage people to transport their cargo with containers in the coming year.

Modernizing the system
We are working with the same Australian company to transition our management system to a digital IT system. It will link our entire network, down to the ticketing. We are trying to amend the system so that it can first be self-sufficient before undergoing reorganization. We are also training our staff to be more service minded. For that, we are teaming with JICA to provide free training over the course of 4 years. We are currently in our second year, and we are teaching everything from greetings, to bowing, to cleaning. It will take time as Japan also took 25 to 30 years corporatizing its services from 1987.

Financial status, continued projects
Concerning our financial situation, we still have a large debt to repay to the Paris Club. Even though they reduced our debt by half, the interests and capital on the loan, which dates back to 1988, amounts to K 128 billion, twice the revenue of our railways.
Then there’s the pension payment for 18,000 pensioners, which amounts to more than K 1 billion. We are trying to bring in more private investors as the railway business requires a lot of capital and it may take us 30 years to repay all our debts.
We’ve been discussing forming a joint venture with an Australian company who wants to produce crossing products and turnouts in Myanmar and sell it to Southeast Asian countries. We’re also discussing a joint venture with a Japanese company who wants to take over our old factory to produce precast concrete structures. We have finished assembling 21 carriages with loans acquired from China in the previous government administration. We will complete assembling the 10 locomotives within this year.

Closing remarks
I also want to point out that our budget for 2018-2019 only placed 15 ordinary coaches for us. We requested for 500 passenger coaches and at least 800 cargo coaches. This is because before the war, we had more than 9,000 coaches but now we only have 2,000. This is even less the before the war in 1942. If we can increase our cargo transport service than our earnings from transport fees will be adequate. We may have to forgo human passengers.
In conclusion, I want to point out is that the most important point in our 12-point Transport Policy includes setting up an effective, efficient, cost-effective and modern transportation system. The market needs to be free and competitive. The Government is responsible for creating opportunities for the people to choose between methods of travel, whether by car, train or airplane. In the end, the Government will not run the trains or the motorways; they will be able to compete with each other. We are doing our utmost to ensure we achieve excellent results.
The Amyotha Hluttaw Speaker then announced that the question and answer between MP U Pe Tin and the Union Minister were to be published in the Myanmar Gazette and state media in accordance with Amyotha Hluttaw Bylaw 150. (Translated by Zaw Htet OO)

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