With only a handful of passengers boarding trains from Hanoi to three neighboring provinces each day, the local railway transport company is struggling to keep these routes running.
Trains to the northern provinces of Lang Son, Thai Nguyen, and Quang Ninh depart daily from the capital, but only one or two passengers typically get on at the first station.
Even when those getting on at other stations are counted, these trains serve only a dozen passengers a day, according to Hanoi Railway Transport JSC, which operates the routes.
Most passengers are vendors who transport their daily produce by train to these provinces for sale, a company leader said.
Meanwhile, tourists or regular commuters often opt to travel between the destinations by road to save time, as a railway trip could take way longer than a bus ride, the leader explained.
In 2018, the Hanoi rail company made around VND3 billion (US$130,000) in revenue from these three routes, while it spent over VND15 billion ($650,000) on costs to operate them, the leader said.
Despite such substantial losses that the company suffers every year, it has kept the routes alive for social reasons, and to provide jobs for those tasked with operating the trains.
Since June 2018, Hanoi Railway Transport JSC has requested government subsidy to help keep these three routes in operation.
“We wanted to close these routes, but the local administrations [of the three provinces] asked that we keep them for the passengers that still depend on them for their commute,” said Phung Thi Ly Ha, deputy general director of Hanoi Railway Transport JSC.
“That’s why we have kept them running, even though only one or two passengers board the trains at departure,” she explained.
|A handful of passengers board a train from Hanoi to Ha Long City in the northern province of Quang Ninh. Photo: Tuoi Tre|
The Hanoi – Thai Nguyen route runs for over two hours each way, with ticket prices ranging from VND15,000 ($0.65) to VND55,000 ($2.35).
Trains from Hanoi to Dong Dang Town in Lang Son Province run four and a half hours each way, with ticket prices ranging from VND15,000 ($0.65) to VND89,000 ($3.85).
Trains from Hanoi to Ha Long City in Quang Ninh Province run seven hours each way, with ticket prices ranging from VND20,000 ($0.85) to VND80,000 ($3.45).
A South Korean company once operated a five-star tourist train from Hanoi to Ha Long, but it was forced to shut down in no time due to competition from road options.
While it takes seven hours for a train to travel between Hanoi and Ha Long, a bus ride between the destinations only takes one and a half hours.
This is mostly due to outdated railway tracks, which limit the maximum speed at which trains can travel even with powerful engines, experts explain.