60% of GDP Too Much for High Speed Rail: Vietnam National Assembly

In a surprise move, the Vietnam National Assembly rejected plans proposed by the government to built a high speed rail line from Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) to Hanoi.

Some opponents expressed concern that the line would not be competitive with air service. The 900 mile route, which was to operate at up to 186 miles per hour, would take between five and six hours to make the trip between Vietnam's two principal cities. This compares to the current two hour trip by air. Concerns were expressed that this travel time, combined with fares that would need to be competitive with those of airlines would be insufficient to make the line a viable economically.

But the strongest objections were expressed with respect to the context of such a large expenditure in a developing nation. The high speed rail line would have cost an amount equal to 60% of Vietnam's gross domestic product, even before the cost overruns that have typically plagued such projects. This is akin to spending $8.5 trillion on high speed rail in the United States (more than $25,000 per capita).

National Assembly member Nguyen Minh Thuyet told the Agence France-Press that some children in the Central Highlands can only get to school by swinging on a cable across a river because they have no bridge, questioning the validity of such an expensive project in light of the nation's low income.

Photograph: Ho Chi Minh (Saigon)