Vietnamese railroad inspectors have encountered a number of problems stemming from inadequate equipment of vehicles and tools for the job to the detriment of their statutory power.
Railway inspectors, by law, act as advisors to the Vietnam Railway Authority and Ministry of Transport in railroad safety nationwide, but this role is not matched by what they have had and done.
Vietnam’s 58 railway inspectors, assigned to work in the country’s northern, central and southern regions, have never had their own headquarters for 13 years since the inception of their inspection body.
Instead the offices are based in buildings of member companies of the state-run Vietnam Railways, the operator of the north-to-south rail system.
This appears to be a deliberate arrangement, as the railway officials are also supposed to find wrongdoings in these very firms.
The inspectorate, whose monthly salary is around VND5 million (US$220), cover offenses like impinging on railway track zone, damaging railroad protective structures, and failing to abide by railroad regulations.
Around 85 percent of those booked for breach railway safety regulations in 2015 were members of the public, while railway workers and companies under the Vietnam Railways accounted for eight percent and three percent, respectively.
Also in 2015, it was estimated that each inspector were responsible for managing over 100 kilometers of Vietnam’s 1,730-kilometer lifeline railway, which was daunting as the line partly stretches through many remote, mountainous regions inaccessible by other means of transport.
Even so, the inspectors have not been provided with sufficiently functional vehicles for unexpected patrols.
One of their three given cars has been severely broken-down, while the others were returned to the government due to being not registered.
The officials are occasionally seen riding bicycles, motorcycles, motorbike taxis or buses as the transport modes during their duty.
They also have no cameras, voice recorders and breathalyzers, which can explain why arguments between them and supposed violators occur quite frequently.
Violation notices they issue often contains very general information about the offence, for instance, ‘this person has used alcohol.’
“We wrote down violations that way because we had to estimate blood alcohol content only by eye and notice alcohol by nose,” an inspector said.
Furthermore, the inspectorate are allowed to hand out only fines under VND500,000 ($22), and larger financial penalties must be levied by their superior – the head of the Vietnam Railway Authority.
This force failed to contribute to an investigation into a high-profile case late last year, involving a near head-on collision between two trains due to the high-profile malfunction of China-installed railroad switch system then worthy over VND2 trillion ($88 million).
Ill-equipped, the railroad inspectors have compared unfavorably with their counterparts, who patrol inland waterways, or deal with aviation or maritime missteps.