Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City’s public transportation infrastructure is undergoing major developments, and while much of the story so far with the two metro systems has involved delays and skyrocketing costs, step by step these two projects trudge towards completion.
A smaller-scale yet equally interesting project under way is the introduction of electric ticket barriers at major train stations in Vietnam; initially Hanoi, Danang and Ho Chi Minh City.
The barriers are part of an effort to modernise the service while improving overall customer service and security. The initiative, funded by the state-owned Vietnam Railways Company, will mean that from now on, commuters will be required to buy either a print or electronic ticket, and scan it at the new barriers in order to enter the platform, as opposed to the current system where commuters simply buy a printed ticket and then display it to the attendant on the platform before boarding the train.
This is aimed at stopping passengers boarding trains without a ticket, while also keeping the platforms less busy. According to a spokesman from Vietnam Railways, this will also allow rail attendants to focus more time on helping passengers and providing customer service, rather than having to stand out on the platform checking tickets.
The move is an attempt to bring train stations in Vietnam in line with those in other countries with more developed railway systems, and is likely to improve the image of the country’s transportation infrastructure, if only as a small detail.
According to the spokesman, attendants will be on duty to help passengers, particularly the elderly, who perhaps have limited exposure to such technologies and may get confused with the new system. The attendants will also help pregnant women, and the disabled.
While other stations in the country will not be getting electric barriers just yet, a system of checking tickets before passengers enter the check-in area is being enforced across the board in what looks like an effort to better regulate ticket inspection and prevent any loss to freeloading passengers.
Vietnam’s north-to-south railway line, the Reunification Express, was built between 1899 and 1936 and covers 1,726km, along which there are 191 stations. The railway now competes with cheaper and in many cases more convenient bus routes, as well as the air option favoured by the more wealthy.
Challenge from Above
Vietnam’s aviation industry saw an increase in passenger numbers of 19% from the previous year to around 45 million passengers in 2016, with the domestic sector accounting for around 23 million of those passengers — a 23% rise from the year prior.
This fierce competition means that Vietnam’s railway system must modernise and improve if it hopes to maintain its share of passengers. The introduction of electric ticket barriers is one such measure.
While train travel is cheaper than air travel in the peak season — before and after Tet and during the summer — the argument for air travel still wins out, with average ticket prices ranging between VND500,000 and VND1.1 million for a 14-hour train ride from Hanoi to Danang. The convenience of flying is evident. The same route by air costs as little as VND500,000 in the off season, and only takes only one hour.
The question is: How far are Vietnam Railways planning to go with modernising their service?
Once major metro projects in the cities are (eventually) complete, perhaps the time will come to return to the idea of modernising the railway line itself in order to introduce more up-to-date, faster trains that can shave travel times by rail.
The idea of a high-speed rail link between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City has already been on the table for a number of years and authorities are conducting a pre-feasibility study. According to comments made by Doan Duy Hoach, deputy general director of the Vietnam Railways Corporation, in 2016, the present railway system in inadequate for the country’s needs.
A high-speed line from north to south coupled with comparatively low prices compared to air travel would make rail travel a much more attractive prospect.
At the time of writing this article, the electric ticket barriers were due to be introduced in December, 2017