The development and growth of the road and railway sector are essential to improve transportation in any region. Despite substantial achievements, such as an increase in the length of paved roads, expansion of expressways and development and modernisation of the rail network, the road and railway sector within Southeast Asia still requires substantial investments. Southeast Asia Infrastructure takes a look at the key developments in the road and railways sector in the region…
Road sector developments
According to the ASEAN Statistical Yearbook 2022, the total road length in the Southeast Asian region is approximately 2.5 million km. The sector has developed with a rise in the development of expressways and highways and deployment of digital means for project execution. The region is undergoing new road network development as well as maintenance and repair of existing infrastructure. ASEAN countries have also attracted investments in the sector.
In June 2022, the Government of Thailand announced plans to undertake a $2.33 billion highway project linking Saraburi and Nakhon Nayok and reduce congestion on the existing Phahon Yothin road (Highway 1) in Bangkok. The project is yet to receive approval from the Expressway Authority of Thailand. In another development, in July 2022, the Department of Highways, Department of Rural Roads, and the Expressway Authority of Thailand signed a memorandum of understanding to integrate all road construction projects in Thailand under a single management system to improve efficiency and increase construction speed. The three agencies will cooperate to oversee the progress of 19 planned road projects, with five projects worth THB 233 billion already under way.The funds for these projects will reportedly be raised through the Thailand Future Fund.
In Malaysia, the Ministry of Works earmarked a budget of RM 1.8 billion in 2022 for the maintenance and repair of federal roads across the country. Of the net investment, RM 66.08 million will be spent on roads in Pahang, RM60.9 million in Johor and RM 23.63 million in works in Negeri Sembilan. Further, an additional allocation of RM 600,000 has been approved to upgrade street lights along the FT050 federal road to increase safety. In the Southeast Asian region, toll road development is also in progress.
In April 2022, the Indonesia Investment Authority signed two agreements worth $2.72 billion for investments in toll road development in Sumatra and Java. The first heads of agreement were signed with Hutama Karya to invest in three phases of the Trans-Sumatra toll road development project. Waskita Toll Road has also signed an agreement with the agency for investments in two phases of the trans-Java toll road project. The sector has also attracted multilateral investments. A cooperation agreement has been signed between the Islamic Development Bank and the Government of Indonesia to provide funding of $150 million for the second phase of the trans SouthSouth Road Infrastructure in Java. The project has secured additional financing from the Asian Development Bank. The total investment under the project is estimated to be around $450 million. Various digital interventions are also being undertaken in the Southeast Asian region for maintenance and development of the sector.
Owing to the increasing need for safe, secure and smooth smart transportation systems, a portfolio of solutions has been developed by NEC Indonesia that can help governments control traffic congestion, using technologies like artificial intelligence and internet of things. The Land Transportation Office (LTO) of the Philippines launched a new central command centre (C3) as well as an incident reporting mobile app, CitiSend. C3 will help in surveillance monitoring, coordination, and alarm monitoring while the mobile application will offer citizens an immediate channel of contact with the LTO.
In another development, Cambodia is seeking technical assistance from a Canadian road maintenance company to reduce maintenance and construction costs, save natural resources and keep its unpaved roads smoother for longer.
Railway sector developments
According to the ASEAN Statistical Yearbook 2022, the railway network in the ASEAN region has grown from nearly 19,915 km in 2012 to 22,685 km in 2020. Most Southeast Asian countries are in need of modernisation and additional tracks. Apart from the revival and renovation of existing infrastructure, many new projects are being planned. Southeast Asian nations are exploring the option of developing high speed rail (HSR) corridors, primarily with Chinese and Japanese help. Southeast Asia’s first HSR, from Jakarta to Bundung, is expected to be completed by June 2023.
In August 2022, the Ministry of Transport (MoT) of Thailand and Malaysia partnered to develop an HSR network across four ASEAN countries. The HSR route will connect the countries of Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Laos as well as China. The MoT of Thailand and Malaysia have agreed to establish a joint working panel to discuss plans for the proposed system. In January 2023, the MoT announced plans to upgrade Vietnam’s North-South railway. The plans include five renovation projects with a combined cost of $213 million. Funds will be allocated from the state budget for public projects in the 2021-25 period. The first three projects will renovate the 319 km long section between Hanoi and Vinh, the 995 km long section between Vinh and Nha Trang, and the 441 km long section linking Nha Trang and Saigon. The net investment requirement to renovate these sections is estimated to be $131.77 million. The fourth project, costing $20 million, will upgrade three passenger terminals and four cargo terminals while the final project, with an investment of $78.46 million, will upgrade a railway bridge crossing on the Duong river.
In April 2022, Vietnam announced plans to conduct a study assessing the feasibility of developing two railway projects with an estimated investment of VND 90 trillion.The proposed project is a 37.5 km light rail transit line from Thu Thiem station in Thu Duc City, Ho Chi Minh City, to Long Thanh airport. In July 2022, the Government of the Philippines ordered the revival of the railway system in Panay Island. Panay Railways had stopped operations in 1983 because of growing losses. Panay Railways Incorporated, the rail line’s operator, recently announced that the UK-based Global Wealth Centre has expressed interest in participating in the revival project. The proposed project will be carried out in four phases and the first phase, covering the route between Iloilo City and Roxas City in Capiz, is expected to cost around $1.5 billion. The amount includes all rehabilitation works, procuring vehicles and the civil works.
The road and railway sector are considered the cornerstone of economic development and integration. With the increasing focus on developing expressways, toll roads, railway modernisation and the HSR network, overall regional connectivity is expected to improve. This will help the Southeast Asian region exploit the comparative advantage of each country and boost economic development and enhance competitiveness.