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The Yangon Circular Railway currently is dilapidated and slow, but scenic. |
CALFLIER001, VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS / CC BY-SA 2.0
BUSINESS

Yangonrailsystemtogetupgrade
Populartouristlinetoberevampedwith24.8billionloanfromJICA
BY JORDAN ALLEN
KYODO
ARTICLE HISTORY DEC 31, 2016

YANGON TouristsvisitingMyanmarslargestcity,Yangon,couldloseoneof
thestarattractionsoftheformercapitalaftertherailwaythatencirclesthe
cityisupgradedwiththehelpofJapaneseinvestment.

Whiletheresponsibilityforupgradingthe46km(28.5miles)oftrackthat
makesuptheYangonCircularRailwayrestswithMyanmarRailways,the
costofnewsignalingandtrainsforthelineisbeingmetbytheJapan
InternationalCooperationAgency,whichisaimingtohaveeverythingup
andrunningby2020.

Whilethismaybegoodnewsforcommuterscurrentlytrainstakearound
threehourstocompleteacircuit,whilethenewsystemwilltakelessthan
twotouristsmaynotwelcomethechangeasmuch,withmanyusingthe
lineasawayofexperiencingrailtravelinaless-developedsetting,and
seeingacrosssectionoflifeinthecitysurbanandruralareasataleisurely
pace.

Theroutepassesthrough38mostlyramshacklestations,beginningat
YangonCentralstationonthenorthernedgeofthecitysdowntownarea.

SpeakingatYangonCentral,AmericantouristCarisaidshehadoptedto
ridethetraintorelaxandmakethebestofarainyday.

Myplanisjusttodosomethingthatsalittlebitlaidbackandtobeableto
seealotofdifferentpartsofYangonculture,shesaid.

AndcultureisabundantontheYangonCircularRailway.DaNyinGone
Stationprovidesamarketsellingfreshfruitandvegetablesbesidethe
railway,whileWaiBarGiStationliesrightontheboundaryofYangon

InternationalAirport,allowingthechancetoseeplanestakingoffand
landing.

Atotherstations,vendorsboardandleavethetrain,offeringtheirwaresas
theywalkthroughthecarriages.Elsewhere,peopledrytheirclothesbeside
thetrackorwalkleisurelyalongtherails.
Phil,ateacherfromBritain,saidheintendedtojumponandoffthetrainat
whicheverstopslookedinteresting,addingthatthemarketsappealedto
him.

Itlookedinterestingseeabitofthecityyouwouldntseejustwandering
aroundthemiddle,hesaid.

Askedabouttheupgradestotheline,Philsaiditwasimpracticaltokeepthe
railwayasitisjustfortourists.Ifithelpslocalpeople,youcantreally(keep
itthesame)justfortouriststocomeandseetheoldway.Youcantdothat.

AyumiKiko,arepresentativeofJICAwhoisdealingwiththeupgrade,did
notshareconcernsoverYangonpotentiallylosingoneofitsprimetourist
attractions,sayingIthinkitsveryinterestingstill,because...youcansee
peopleslives,peopleslivingenvironmentfromtheline,whichyoucannot
seefromtakingataxiorabus.

Shesaidrecentlythattheupgradeisnotaimedatchangingthebalance
betweenprivateandpublictransport.

Wethinkthatthiscircularlinehasverybigpotentialforthepeoplesaccess
tomanyplaces,becausecurrentlytheratioofusingpublictransportis80
percent,whichisquitegood....Wedontwanttochangethatratio,she
said.

TheYangonregionalgovernmentistryingtoreorganizethebus
transformation,sotogetherwiththosebusimprovementsandrailways
improvements,peoplecanusethepublictransportationsothatthetraffic
congestionisnotgoingtobeworse(thannow),sheadded.

Yangoncertainlysuffersfromcongestionatpresent,withthousandsof
imported,usedJapanesecarsandworse-for-wearbusescrowdingthe
streets.

Theupgradeplan,fundedbyaloanof24.8billion($212million)from
JICA,willseenew,ornewer,trainsinstalledontheYangonCircularRailway,
replacingsomeoftheagingJapaneserollingstockcurrentlyplyingtheroute.
Someoftherollingstockisreallyold,andtheyalsoimportedsome
Japanesesecondhandrollingstockwithaircon,so...eventhoughitis30
yearsold,withairconitisquitenice,Kikosaid,addingthatnewertrains
andbettersignalingwillenableamorefrequentservice.

ManyofthetrainsstillcarrythenamesoftheJapaneselinesonwhichthey
onceran,alongwithvarioussignsandstickers,whileothersdisplaytheflags
ofJapanandMyanmarasamarkofthetiesbetweenthetwonations.

Currentlytrainsrunatintervalsofbetween12and45minutes.From2020
theintervalsshouldbebetween10and12minutes,Kikosaid,comparingit
toJapaneselocaltrainservices.

TheuseofJapanesetechnologyandexpertisefortheupgradedidnotcome
aboutbyaccident.KikoexplainedthatMyanmarRailwayshasbeenusing
Japanesesignalsystemssincethe1960s...veryoldfashioned,antique,
sincetheircountrywasclosedforawhile,sotheydidnthavethenew
technologycomingin,sotheymaintaineditverywell.Theyknowitlasts
morethan50years,sotheyrespectJapanesetechnology.

ShealsosaidthatthenewtrainsforthelinecouldbesuppliedbyJapan.
Althoughotherbiddersfromelsewherewillbeabletorecommendtheir
trains,JICAhasrecommendedJapanesecarriages,Kikosaid.

However,theongoingupgradestothelineareonlypartofamuchbigger
transportplanforthecity.

KikosaidJICAsubmittedatransportmasterplanin2014,detailingthe
futureofthecityspublictransportationupto2040.Giventhatthe
populationofYangonissettoswellfrom5millionto10millioninthattime,

anumberofoptionsforreducingcongestiononthecitysstreetswere
suggested.

By2040wecouldsuggestanelevatedrailway,Kikosaid.Also,sincethe
populationofYangon...isgoingtobeincreased,doubled,in2040,wemay
needanundergroundurbanmasstransitrailwayline,soweproposedthat
in2014
Weproposedtworailwaylinessouthtonorth,uptotheairport,andeast
towest,sheadded.

ImprovementstotherailwaybetweenYangonandMandalay,incentral
Myanmar,arealsoonthecardsforJICA.However,theworktotheYangon
CircularLinelookssettobethefirstcompletedrailprojectfortheJapanese
organization.

MarkSmith,whorunstraintraveladvicewebsiteTheManinSeatSixty-
One,saidinterestinMyanmarsrailnetworkhasskyrocketedinrecent
years.

IusedtogetmaybeoneortwoemailsaboutBurmaperyear,nowIget
regularfeedbackeveryweekortwo,hesaid,referringtoMyanmarbythe
namebywhichthecountrywasformerlyknown.

HedescribedtheYangonCircularLineasacuriosity,andsaidMyanmar
RailwaysisprobablytheleastmodernizedofallthesignificantAsian
networks,andthetrackisverybumpyinplacesthatsthefeedbackI
usuallyget.

ItaliantouristDario,whotookashorttripontheYangonline,describedthe
journeyasdefinitelycool,itslikegoingbacktotheoldtimes.Itsverynice,
somethingreallyunique...thatprobablyonedaywillnotbehere
anymore.

Hesaidhefelttheupgradestothelinemaytakeawaythecharmfortourists,
suggestingthatpossibly(it)willbenicetokeepjustashortpartlikethis
justfortheexperience...havetheefficient(train)forthepeopleandthen
keepsomeforthetouristsorforthelocalsasamemorial.

However,oneissuethatisnotyetclearisthepotentialforchangestoticket
pricesasaresultoftheupgrade.Asingleticketforafullcircuitcurrently
costsjust200kyat(15cents).
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