RANGOON — Burma’s Ministry of Rail Transportation has partnered with Japan’s West Corporation to launch an electric commuter tramcar line in downtown Rangoon in efforts to tackle traffic congestion in the country’s commercial capital.
Phase one of the project will run along an existing route on Strand Road from Pansodan in Pabedan Township to Htawlikwe in Ahlone Township, and is expected to be operational by early October of this year.
The second phase will run from Pansodan to lin Sadaung in Botahtaung Township, and should launch in December, the ministry said.
West Corporation is a global trading company supplying railroad cars and hardware from Japan.
The ministry’s Director Thaung Lwin said the initial rollout was planned for Strand Road as a pilot project due to its long reach and lack of flyovers. If successful, more tram cars could be installed in other parts of the city.
“We will have to consider avoiding overhead bridges for this project, that’s why we chose Strand Road first,” Thaung Lwin said.
Strand Road passes through several of the city’s busiest townships, running alongside the Rangoon River. In 2011, the road was upgraded by the Yangon City Development Committee in partnership with domestic conglomerate Asia World Group.
The redevelopment included widening the throughway and installing a dual track railway spanning nine kilometers (5.6 miles) from Botahtaung to Kyimyindaing townships.
Thaung Lwin said initial works will focus on installing electrical lines along the length of the route to power the trains, though he did not detail how the ministry will ensure uninterrupted service in the city, which experiences frequent power shortages throughout much of the year.
Tun Aung Thin, general manager of state-owned implementing partner Myanmar Railways, said the project is already underway, commencing swiftly after the signing of an MoU on Monday.
Earlier this year, Tun Aung Thin estimated that some 2.5 million commuters enter Rangoon daily for work and trade, about 100,000 of them arriving through ports along Strand Road from Dala Township and Irrawaddy Division.
Once in Rangoon, transport times are often infuriating as an influx of cars following the relaxation of import regulations in 2011 led to cluttered roads filled to the brim with taxis, private vehicles and buses.
The new electric tram project is one of several proposals by the city government and urban planning experts to relieve the city’s congestion, though some have argued that the project will do little to curb the problem.
Urban planner Than Moe doubts the effectiveness of the costly plan, urging the government to “think about who will benefit from this, and who will pay the costs.”
He recommended instead upgrading the city’s circular train line, which is used daily by farmers from various townships bringing their goods to market, and improving connectivity between the train and city buses.
“The weakness is the government hasn’t considered connecting the train and bus stops,” Than Moe said, suggesting that “if there are connections, people will take the trains.”
The existing railway along Strand Road currently serves mainly as a transit route for cargo, with about 300 trains traversing the line monthly to move goods from Rangoon’s ports.
Late last year, Myanmar Railways began operating a commuter train along the rail in an attempt to curb congestion, though Than Moe said the line is unlikely to dramatically reduce traffic as it doesn’t serve the densest transit routes.