State Railway Seeks Private Partner for Trendy Tourist Train

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 8 September 2015

RANGOON — State-owned transport provider Myanmar Railways has called on private investors to operate one of the country’s many promising new tourism opportunities, a railway gang car route spanning 2,200 feet to cross the Goteik Viaduct in eastern Burma’s Shan State.

Selected investors will be expected to enter a joint venture with Myanmar Railways for three years with an annually renewable contract, according to a statement from the enterprise.

Kyaw Kyaw Myo, the company’s deputy general manager, told the Irrawaddy that courting private investment is an urgent priority. Interested companies have until Oct. 6 to submit their expressions of interest.

Located in Nawnghkio Township, the Goteik Viaduct is part of a railway system connecting Pyin Oo Lwin, formerly the summer capital of British colonial administrators in Burma, with Lashio, one of the state’s principal towns. A popular destination for Burma’s swelling crowds of tourists, the bridge is the highest in Burma and was once the tallest trestle in the world.

Formerly used to conduct track repairs, rail gang cars were modified earlier this year to allow tourists to better experience the journey across the viaduct and the picturesque panorama of the surrounding Shan hills.

Myanmar Railways collects 100,000 kyats (US$100) for every full one-way trip of the 20-seat cars, according to Kyaw Kyaw Myo, as tickets are currently valued at 5,000 per passenger.

Phyo Wai Yar Zar, chairman of Myanmar Tourism Marketing, said that travelers will only be able to board the cars from a station near the viaduct, that the current pricing may be unsustainable and that a compromise reached during the tender process. Provided that that can be worked out, he said, “if the private sector can do it, it will be good for tourists.”

Construction of the famous bridge was overseen by Sir Arthur Rendel, an engineer for the Burma Railroad Company. Work on the bridge began in 1899 and was completed in 1900, consisting of 16 steel towers and 2,260 feet in track length. Its tallest tower is more than 800 feet high.

Tourism has been on the rise in Burma since the government began to implement wide-ranging political and economic reforms in 2011, marking the beginning of the country’s departure from military rule.

Many local businesses and foreign investors are banking on hopes that the service industry and tourism sector will become a major contributor to the nation’s economy, which is in the early stages of a slow recovery from its decimation under the former military regime.

In early 2014, the Burmese government announced that 2016 would be designated as “Visit Myanmar Year,” part of a Tourism Master Plan plans to raise foreign visitor numbers of 7.5 million by 2020.

The government attempted to launch a similar scheme in 1996, but it was ultimately unsuccessful due to fierce criticism from the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) and the country’s status as a pariah state.