In the last decade, the Government of Vietnam has increased its effort to develop a 225-km efficient urban transit system in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). In accordance with this goal, the HCMC Metro, also known as Saigon Metro, was approved as a part of the government’s Transport Master Plan. The system will be the first rapid transit network to serve the capital city.
The network was first proposed in 2001 as part of a plan for a comprehensive public transport network that would cover HCMC and the neighbouring provinces. A revised plan was approved in April 2013, under which two monorail lines and a tram system totalling more than 56 km, as well as six underground metro lines totalling 169 km, will be developed in the city. These developments rely heavily on external funding.
According to the Transport Master Plan, six mass rapid transit (MRT) lines are proposed to be built in the city by 2040. Of these, one line is currently under construction and Line 2 is in the pre-construction stage, with works expected to commence by the end of 2022. The remaining four lines are under various stages of planning.
Once completed, these six lines will add about 169 km of MRT network in the city. Figure 1 presents the proposed map for the entire HCMC Metro system.
All of the upcoming lines will be developed by the Management Authority for Urban Railways (MUAR). Table 1 details the upcoming MRT lines in HCMC.
In addition to the six new MRT lines, MAUR will also develop one tramway and two monorail lines. Table 2 presents the details about these lines.
Rolling stock, ticketing, and technology
To ensure interoperability, Lines 1, 3A, and 3B will use similar rolling stock and Lines 2, 6, and 5 will use similar systems. The maximum speed of the trains on Line 2 will be 80 km/hr.
Tracks will be standard gauge (1,435 mm). Power will be sourced from overhead catenary (1.5 kV DC) for Line 1 and from the third rail (750 V DC) for Line 2.
For Line 2, a communications-based train control (CBTC) signalling system will be deployed, comprising automatic train control (ATC), automatic train stop (ATS), computer-based interlocking, train detection and speed measurement capability, signal data transmission, travel description system, switch interlocking, disaster warning system, etc.
The line will feature terrestrial trunked radio (TETRA) technology for the communication system and platform screen doors.
Although specific details about the ticketing system have not been disclosed yet, it is expected that a common bank card, valid on both the metro and bus networks, will be deployed on all the lines.
Reliance on external funding
The Government of Japan is one of the leading sources of financing for HCMC’s MRT system, having extended more than USD2 billion in the form of official development assistance (ODA), with additional loans expected in the coming years. Another source of ODA is the Government of Spain, one of the key investors in Line 5.
Multilateral agencies have provided nearly USD3 billion in funding for all of the MRT lines. Some of the key financing agencies are the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the German Development Bank/ Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (KfW), the European Investment Bank (EIB), and the Export-Import Bank of Korea (EXIM-Korea).
Internal funding from the federal and state budget accounts for a small portion of the investment value, about USD1 billion. The state government of HCMC has also requested private funding of about USD833 million for Lines 2 (phase 2), 3A, 4, and 5 (phase 1). However, since 2020, the state government has failed to attract major international investors for ongoing urban development projects due to low levels of efficiency and overlapping regulations.
Table 3 outlines some of the key funding sources for HCMC’s MRT lines.
MAUR is also currently exploring the feasibility of developing Lines 4 and 5 under a public-private partnership (PPP) investment method, using part ODA. Some private investors have also expressed interest in financing Line 5 Phase 2, including South Korea-based Lotte E&C Company Limited and GS E&C Company. Further details will be released only after the feasibility study has been accepted.
Key contracts: Role of foreign players
Most of the contracts awarded by MAUR have been for works on Line 1. Japan-based companies have secured the majority of these contracts.
Table 4 details some of the key contracts awarded for HCMC’s upcoming urban rail network.
Progress plagued by delays
Progress on the city’s metro system has been marred by a series of delays, owing to cost overruns and delayed payments to contractors. As the cost of the projects increased due to design changes, new investment estimates had to await approval from the National Assembly. Capital disbursement was severely affected due to lack of funds, as the ODA portion of the financing could not be accessed until approval was granted in 2019. This slowed down progress considerably.
Restrictions on movement related to the COVID-19 pandemic also delayed and hampered project progress, as foreign consultants, contractors, and workers were unable to carry out work due to the closure of international borders. The import of building materials was interrupted as well.
Apart from these common issues, Lines 1 and 2 had their own individual technical problems, thus adding to the delay.
Apart from financial woes, the construction of Metro Line 1 encountered several technical problems that affected the project’s progress. By the end of 2021, six Elastomeric Laminated Bearing pads had shifted or fallen from their original position. Work was halted to investigate this systematic error.
Line 1 was originally slated to commence passenger operations in 2018. As of June 2022, construction on this line has been 91 percent complete. It is now expected to commence operations in 2023, five years later than initially planned.
Pre-construction work on Line 2 was also delayed due to issues with the site-clearing process in 2021. As of June 2022, only 83.45 per cent of the ground has been handed over to the project.
In May 2022, it was announced that the Metro Team Line 2 will be replaced as the Implementation Consultant (IC) for the line due to ongoing fee disputes with MAUR. It is expected to take 12–18 months to find a new consultant. This delay has pushed back the line’s completion date by four years to 2030 instead of 2026 as previously planned.
The HCMC Metro is one of the most expensive MRT projects under development in the Southeast Asia (SEA) region, costing about USD25 billion. However, progress has stalled in recent years due to delays caused by budgetary deficits and overruns. Consequently, the cost of the entire project is increasing year on year. Project costs of all the proposed lines have more than doubled those of the initial projection.
Given the city’s burgeoning population, the government needs to develop the metro more quickly and efficiently to provide an affordable and reliable alternative to private transport, an option that commuters are forced to use increasingly, and to alleviate congestion during peak hours.