Constituted in 1976, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam has emerged from a modern history including colonial rule and war to become one of south-east Asia's fastest growing economies (6.23% GDP growth in 2008), with unexploited reserves of coal, iron ore and oil. There has been rapid and continuing growth of the two dominant cities, capital Hanoi (pop. approx 6.4 million) in the north and, around 1,100km to the south, the largest settlement and economic centre, Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon, approx 8 million in the metropolitan area).
Contrasting with important trading partner Germany, a country with a very similar size and population, railway transport has played only a minor part in Vietnam's development. Almost two-thirds of the predominantly metre-gauge heavy rail network is accounted for by the line between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), and there is little rail application in urban transit.
However, consideration has turned from reliance on buses – although public transport use for city journeys has been as low as 5% – to creating a metro system to address the problems of congestion, protracted journey times and extreme pollution.
The latter is a particular problem due to the high use of motor scooters/bikes – there is an estimated four million around the city – and with increasing road use in general, the accident and casualty rate has further encouraged the case for rail.
In October 2009, the Vietnamese Government sanctioned plans for building the underground metro line of the project at a cost of about $1.2bn. Spanish consulting company Ardanuy Ingenieria won a feasibility study contract in October 2009 to provide solutions to build Line 4 of the six-line project.
In April 2009 Spanish firm Idom Ingenieria Consultoria was awarded the contract to conduct feasibility studies for Line 5 and Line 6 of the metro. The two feasibility studies are expected to cost $1.7m and was completed within a year.
GEV signed an agreement with Ho Chi Minh City’s Management Board of Urban Railway to construct phase one of Line 5 between Saigon Bridge and Bay Hien Intersection in September 2010. The work is scheduled to begin in April 2011.
The construction of Metro line 2 began in August 2010 and is planned to be completed by 2015, with commercial services scheduled to commence in 2016. The funding is partly from the government and loans from the Overseas Development Administration, Asian Development Bank and European Investment Bank.
Ten years into the formation of the current state, Vietnam loosened domestic economic controls and began supporting foreign investment in the country. Attracting interest from several countries, this process has helped to create a substantial project for Vietnam's first rail-based rapid transit system. At an estimated $1.1bn cost, the government has approved the scheme for the first line.
"With increasing road use in general, the accident and casualty rate has further encouraged the case for rail."
The Japan Bank for International Cooperation is providing 83% of the finance, the remainder coming from the HCMC municipal government. The metro route's consultant and designer is the Japanese Nippon Koei Group, who has maintained a presence in Hanoi since 1991. By March 2008, German interests in Vietnam's future metro developments had also been strengthened following ministerial visits between the countries. There have been indications of financial support via the German public sector KfW Entwicklungsbank for later line projects.
The metro project will have six lines. Line 1 of the project is 19.7km long and consists of a 2.6km-long underground section and a 17.1km elevated section. Line 1 will connect Ben Thanh Market in the central area to the amusement park at Suoi Tien in District 9. The line goes underground from Station 1 at Quach Thi Trang Roundabout area in Ben Thanh Market. It consists of two horizontally aligned two tunnels. After Station 3 at Ba Son the line shifts from underground to elevated. The underground section has a total of three underground stations. Line 1 also consists of a crossing at Saigon River.
Line 2 of the project will be 10.18km long and will run between Ben Thanh Market and Tham Luong. Line 2 will contain 11 stations. Line 3 will be 10.4km long and will run between Ben Thanh Market and Bin Tan District.
Line 4 will be 16km long and will begin from Lang Cha Ca traffic circle and end at Van Thanh Park in Binh Thanh district. Line 5 will span 17km between Can Giuoc Bus Station in District 8 and Thu Thiem New Urban Town in District 2. The route for Line 6 will be 6km long and run between Ba Queo in Tan Binh District and Phu Lam in District 6.
Ho Chi Minh City occupies a low-lying site 60km (37 miles) from the South China Sea coast, and difficult ground conditions are envisaged. Restrictions may need to be placed on building in the areas expected to be needed for the metro project. The start of construction was announced in February 2008, with work beginning on a $28m system depot in Long Binh Ward, District 9.
The tenders for construction were invited in 2008, and compensation and site clearance for the project was completed by 2009. Although system aspects are to be confirmed, the 1,435mm gauge will differ from the country's other lines.
Completion of Line 1, which is due to have 11 surface and three sub-surface stations, also related bus stations, is expected in 2014. There is a commitment to make the system accessible for users with physical disabilities and for bus routes to act as feeder services to rail. Planning indicates several interchange points on the system as later lines are opened.
The supplier of rolling stock and other equipment is yet to be specified. Six-car trains are to be deployed with a target daily loading of 162,000 passengers up to 2020. An end-to-end time of around 29 minutes is planned, with a train every five minutes through a 20-hour operational day.
"The HCMC transport master plan proposes five further metro lines which, with Line 1, will approximate to 107km (66 miles)."
No suppliers have been yet announced, although the potentially diverse funding arrangements may lead to rolling stock being sourced from several companies and countries.
Those with rapid transit experience who have expressed interest have included Japanese conglomerate Sumitomo Corporation (lead contractor for the Manila MRT-3 Phase 1 project) and two Europe-based companies who are already active in Vietnam, Alstom and Siemens.
Japan's Kawasaki Heavy Industries has also expressed its interest in providing locomotives and carriages for the project. Neighbouring China may also see opportunities with this emerging market.
Signalling and communications
Signalling aspects are to be announced. Along with other potential suppliers, French company Alstom is already active in this area of the market through their work with Vietnam Railways on the existing rail system.
Anticipated completion date for the first line is 2014. The HCMC transport master plan proposed five further metro lines which, with Line 1, will approximate to 107km (66 miles). The same plan, which also included three monorail routes totalling 37km (23 miles), indicated completion of the schemes by 2020, by which time the population forecast is 13.5 million. With Ho Chi Minh City as Vietnam's main economic centre, it remains to be seen if the earlier studies for rapid transit in the capital, Hanoi, will be revived in some form.