RANGOON — More than 50 years after launching its first train service, Burma’s state railway department will soon offer passengers the chance to ride a Japanese air-conditioned train on a popular but poorly maintained commuter route in Rangoon.
The five-cabin train—a used model that was imported from Japan last year—will make its first trip on the Circle Line next month, Myanmar Railways told The Irrawaddy on Thursday. The route circles the commercial capital, connecting satellite towns and suburban areas to the city.
The train—which features sofa seats, air-conditioning in each cabin, and automatic as well as manual doors—is undergoing test runs presently to determine whether it can stop at all 38 stations on the 29-mile Circle Line, according to Kyaw Kyaw Myo, the railway company’s assistant general manager. “We will announce which stations the train will stop at, and we will check for demand, too,” he said.
The 300-seat Japanese train will not be able to hold all 90,000 or so passengers who ride the line each day, and those who want to secure a seat will need to pay a premium.
“The ticket price will be more expensive than the fare on current Circle Line trains, because it is even better than the special cabin,” Kyaw Kyaw Myo said, referring to the executive cabins on each train in the current fleet.
Fourteen trains currently operate on the Circle Line, running a total of 200 times daily and carrying 90,000 passengers. The fare is 100 kyats (US 10 cents) for a seat in a regular cabin, and 200 kyats for a seat in a special cabin.
“We know the air-conditioned train will not be enough for everyone, but it will be a service upgrade by the ministry [of rail transportation] for the local Circle Line,” Kyaw Kyaw Myo said. “We will monitor demand and decide whether to broaden the service in the future.”
The Circle Line began operating in 1959. It is presently not a profitable venture.
“Recently we have been losing 2.5 million kyats daily—it’s from fuel charges, so we can’t add additional services for passengers,” said Kyaw Kyaw Myo.
The route is heavily utilized by lower-income commuters, as it is the cheapest method of transportation in Rangoon. Local residents are calling for a more reliable timetable. It takes at least 10 minutes—and sometimes much longer—for a train to travel from one stop to the next.
“We want the Circle Line timetable to be accurate, and for the trains to come on time,” said Tin Tin, a primary school teacher in North Okkalapa Township. “Sometimes we need to wait 30 to 45 minutes for a train during peak hours. And we want the cabins to be clean and upgraded.”
In the tourist season, the Circle Line is also popular among foreigners, with more than 100 foreign riders daily from October to May.
Another air-conditioned train service was launched earlier this month from Rangoon to the Mon State town of Kyaikhto, a tourist destination. The service runs over the weekend and has already become a popular option for Buddhist pilgrims hoping to visit the Golden Rock on Kyite Htee Yoe Mountain, with one-way fare at 3,500 kyats for local riders and $10 for foreign riders.