According to a strategy drafted at the Ministry of Transport, two high-speed railway routes may become operational in Vietnam by 2030. When – and if – the ministry is able to silence critics and gather the required funding, bullet trains will whizz across the country at up to 350km/h between Hanoi and Vinh in the north and between Ho Chi Minh City and Nha Trang in Vietnam’s south.

The two routes will span a total of 651 kilometres of railroad and cost an approximate US$24.3 billion (VND561.6 trillion) to build. If transport demand is relatively low, their completion may be postponed until 2032 but in either event, the routes are intended as phase one of a north-south high-speed railway system.

A bullet train leaving the station in Jinan, China. Photo courtesy of Liu Lulu / Unsplash.

Provisionally slated for 2050, the cross-country network may also include other routes such as Thap Cham – Da Lat and Lao Cai – Hanoi – Hai Phong. Vu Anh Minh, chairman of Vietnam Railways Corporation, said that developing a high-speed railway system is a natural choice given the country’s north-south geographical orientation. With the projected journey time between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City at six hours, passengers would be offered a viable alternative to flights.

However, the project has come under fire from a range of experts – not the least because of its steep price tag. According to Dang Huy Dong, director of the Planning and Development Institute, building infrastructure for ultra-fast trains would entail exorbitant costs resulting in prohibitively high fares. A smarter choice in terms of socio-economic benefits, Dong argues, is to have trains running at speeds between 100 and 150km/h.

At present, Vietnam has over 3,000 kilometres of railway, but none of it is high-speed. The north-south route is often referred to as the Reunification Express, but contrary to its moniker it is hardly quick. Whilst a wonderful journey through dense jungles, rice paddies, fishing villages and bustling cities, a railway trip between Hanoi and Saigon takes roughly 34 hours.