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October 21, 2019

The Skytrain System

After contributing two articles on the subject of easing traffic jams in Yangon, I thought I had said enough on that matter as that was not my area of expertise. However, the latest news in the Bangkok Post daily about the plans to expand the airport rail links prompted me to write this article. In my opinion, it is a good practice to learn from the experiences of other countries or in other words copy from others’ achievements. To my knowledge, gained from observations during my frequent visits over the last twenty years, I had noticed the rapid growth of the public transport facilities in Thailand, especially in Bangkok Metropolitan area. Of all the developments, the Skytrain or the Bangkok Transit System (BTS), an elevated rapid train service is the most enviable achievement.
Which Model Should We Choose ?
Most countries relied on the Mass Rapid Transit System (MTRS) to ease the traffic congestions and at the same time provide efficient and descent transportation for the general public. The MRTS could include the elevated railway or the Skytrain, subways or underground railway, motor coach services and boat services. In this article I would discuss the Skytrain System. If we were to copy from others, in trying to solve the traffic congestion problems in Yangon, we should choose a city, which is similar to ours’ in many respects. I agree that Singapore is the most advanced and developed in the region, with all the modern, sophisticated and efficient infrastructures. However, I do not think that their model will work for us. There are many factors that are different between Singapore and Yangon. Of course there are a few good ideas we can borrow from Singapore, such as restricting the ownership of cars, restricting the entry of cars to the downtown areas during rush hours and levying heavy tolls on cars entering those areas. Though, where the development of transport infrastructure is concerned, we have far larger space and population to cater to. That made us different from Singapore. So we cannot copy everything ditto to Singapore. My point of view is, we should take Bangkok or Kuala Lampur or Jakarta as our model. I think choosing Bangkok will be more appropriate as we share many similarities, which I think, won’t need expounding.
The BTS provides the most efficient and convenient mode of travel for commuters in Bangkok. They are fast and run on regular schedules and above all punctual, which is the most important factor that the commuters look for, in a MRTS. For the working classes, either public or private sector employees and employers alike, to be on time for work is of paramount importance. Most have to rely on the public transportations, thus they need to be efficient. In Bangkok an average of about 600,000 passengers commuted each day by BTS during weekdays and it can increase on Sundays by over 100,000 when there are special occasions.That’s quite a large volume.
As far as I can recall, the BTS came into existence in December 1999, while I was visiting Bangkok. In the days before the BTS came, I remember falling asleep in a taxi, while caught up in one of the notorious Bangkok traffic jams, which seemed to last for ages. However, today it would take me only a few minutes by BTS, to travel a distance that took nearly an hour before. The BTS have been continuously expanding and gaining popularity among locals and tourists alike. The fares are quite reasonable in comparison to the taxi fares that can clock up extra charges when caught in traffic jams. The idling or waiting time fares during such situations are sometimes more than the fares for the actual distance traveled. Those Myanmars, who had been to Bangkok and had traveled around Bangkok by BTS would not deny, if I say it provides the most convenient, efficient and the cheapest mode of travel. The sky walks that are incorporated into the BTS, running one level below the train tracks, between adjacent train stations in busy areas provide elevated and covered pedestrian walkways, clear of any road traffics.
Skytrain System for Yangon Metropolis
When they started the BTS, the contract was granted to a consortium of foreign and local investors on a Build , Operate and Transfer (BOT) basis. We too should consider the same procedure if we were to introduce a Skytrain system. It would not be necessary to dip into the government coffers for funds. I’m sure there would be many foreign firms with experience in that field, who would be interested to invest in such a business venture. An alternative would be to obtain aid or grant or loan from abroad to finance it, if the government choose to undertake the constructions. That will still need foreign supervision as we do not have experience in that field. So, the best would be to use the BOT system.
The project should be carried out in several phases, giving priority to the main artery roads that lead to the downtown areas, such as the Bayintnaung, Kyeemyindine, Insein, Pyay, Kabaraye and Pazundaung roads. The Skytrain tracks do not need separate track alignments, as they can follow the existing main motorways, utilizing only little space to construct pylons to support the rail track spans. I believe the departments concerned have better ideas than me as to which sections they should give priority, so I think I have said enough and hope my suggestions would not be in vain. There could be projects already under considerations, if so please speed up the implementations. This will definitely ease the traffic congestions in the long term. In the meantime the existing circular train services should be upgraded and run on strict and punctual schedules, taking into considerations the convenience of the working classes. It would surely to attract more commuters.

 

The author is Retired Deputy General Manager, Admin: Dept; Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications

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