During the question and answer session of the 17th-day meeting of the 10th regular session of the Second Amyotha Hluttaw, 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.
The Speaker first called on the Mon State MP to put forward his question.
Restoring Myanma Railways from verge of collapse
MP U Pe Tin explained that his question intends to salvage the once successful Myanma Railways (MR) from its current failing standards. He said people used to heavily rely on MR for their day-to-day travels and the railways were outfitted with the most modern locomotives and high-quality tracks. He said as other means of transportation developed over the years, the railway sector fell out of favor. Locomotives regularly break down, railways abound with depressions, carriages leak rainwater, lights inside the train cut off, and many other inconveniences have led people to shun the railways, said the MP.
MP U Pe Tin said other facts that have contributed to the desolation of Myanma Railways include MR staff selling train tickets via illegal methods, improper repairs and maintenance of train carriages, and loading ordinary class passengers onto upper class coaches. He said the Ministry of Transport and Communications is a prominent department of the nation and asked whether officials have any plans to prevent the wobbling pillar of MR from falling, and to restore it to its former glory so that it may attract significant revenue and provide people with reliable transportation.
Weakness, threats and opportunities for MR
Union Minister U Thant Sin Maung replied that professionals from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) reconnected with Myanmar in 2012 and reported in their 2014-2015 Rail Sector Assessment Report that all of the railways in the country ‘urgently needed for rehabilitation’. He said ADB professionals suggested emphasizing 5 main sectors to tackle. These include rationalizing tertiary railways, assessing the train schedule, ensure responsible investments for rail tracks, locomotives, carriages and signal lights, utilizing IT technology in administration, reorganizing the chain of command, and amending the financial management.
The Union Minister said he has asked ADB Australia Consultant Dickbullock what steps to take to transform Myanma Railways into a self-sufficient economic entity, to which the consultant assessed it might take Myanmar more than 20 years to achieve that status. The Union Minister highlighted that MR has lost its market share in the transportation sector as it commanded 44 per cent of the market in 1990 but has fallen to 10 per cent in 2013. He said the private car sector has taken control of the transport market as it currently holds 86 per cent of the market, also resulting in the decline of water and air transportation. He said if the current trend continues uninterrupted till 2020, then MR will drop to 2 per cent in the market by 2025, water transport will be almost non-existent but air travel will pick back up. He said MR held 5 per cent of the cargo transport market in 2013 but could fall as low as 1.5 per cent by 2030 if left unattended. He said this number can be raised to 7-15 per cent by 2030 if serious efforts are made, according to ADB’s analysis.
The Union Minister said a National Transport Master Plan was drawn up with Japanese assistance during the previous administration. The master plan highlighted renovating the Yangon-Mandalay and Mandalay-Myitkyina corridor to improve the railway sector, in addition to motor highways and water routes, as it is the backbone of all the routes.
The Union Minister said they are carrying out projects along the south-north route to the west of Ayeyawady River and also along the eastern route, but ADB has stated that only focusing on railway projects will cost about US$ 6.9 billion for the ministry. He said his ministry has signed an agreement with JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) in 2015 to upgrade the important Yangon-Mandalay route (386 miles). He said a complete journey will take 8 hours once the project is finished.
( To be continued)