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Chinese-funded urban rail line in Hanoi blasted for wavy railroads

Friday, June 26, 2015, 10:47 GMT+7

An under-construction urban railway in Hanoi has captured the attention of passers-by with its wavelike railroads, the latest in a grim series of scandals to hit the Chinese-funded project, but an official has cited ‘scientific reasons’ to defend the bizarre design.

The wavy parts of the US$868.04 million Cat Linh – Ha Dong urban railway, funded by China's official development assistance and constructed by a Chinese firm, can easily be seen with the naked eye, raising safety concerns among local experts and members of the public.

But Le Van Duong, deputy director of the project management unit, said the wavelike rails are deliberately designed to “optimize the operation of the trains in terms of efficacy and energy consumption.”

“The principle is the railroad will be higher at the section where the trains enter the terminal, and lower when they leave,” Duong told reporters in Hanoi on Thursday.

“Trains have to slow down when entering the terminal, so the railroad must be sloped to reduce over-braking and energy consumption.

“On the other hand, when the trains start their journey, the downslope railroads will enable them to accelerate without consuming much energy.”

The answer is not convincing enough to those doubting the safety of the construction, who say such a wavy design cannot be found in any urban railway projects developed by Japan, Germany or the U.S.

The Cat Linh – Ha Dong urban railway project broke ground in October 2011, at an initial investment estimate of $552 million, $419 million of which comes from China's official development assistance (ODA).

The transport ministry is considering increasing the total investment in the project to $868.04 million due to cost overruns during the course of construction.   

The Vietnam Railway Authority, under the transport ministry, is the project developer, whereas the China Railway Sixth Group, a subsidiary of construction conglomerate China Railway Group, is the EPC (engineering, procurement, and construction) contractor.

Under an EPC contract, the contractor designs the installation, procures the necessary materials, and builds the project.

The Chinese side has thus decided to purchase 13 Chinese-made trains for the project, which also raised objections among local experts.

Minister of Transport Dinh La Thang later called for public sympathy as it is an unavoidable circumstance because the EPC contractor has the decisive say in procurement.

“Even when the contractor has weak ability, we cannot have a new one due to the terms of the ODA agreement,” Minister Thang told reporters earlier this month.

A mock-up train is slated to be displayed for public comment later this year, whereas the delivery of all 13 trains is scheduled for the first quarter of next year.

The scandal-rigged Cat Linh – Ha Dong project has made headlines several times since groundbreaking.

Construction had been scheduled for completion in November 2013, and later delayed to December 2015. But it might not be finished until the end of the first quarter of next year, according to current construction progress.

In mid-November 2014, construction was suspended for several weeks after one passer-by was killed and two others were injured by falling reels of steel from a construction site of the project.

When construction resumed in December that year, a 10-meter-long scaffold at a project construction site collapsed and nearly killed four people in a taxi running in the area at the time of the accident.

In late January, Nguyen Huu Thang, head of the Vietnam Railway Authority, the project developer, was found dead for an unknown reason in his office in Hanoi.

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