The Railway Bazaar

By Yeni

Rangoon’s rickety railways a slice of life

Overcrowded and overheated carriages, backbreaking hard seats and rickety railroad tracks—this is the reality of traveling by train in Burma. Although the government has tried to improve many major lines in the past few years, most remain in poor repair and are not passable during the monsoon season.

In a 1999 report by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, Burma was assigned a “significant role” in the development of a trans-Asia railroad network, linking China, Southeast and South Asia.

Yet major obstacles remained, the report said. “The speeds of freight trains are heavily restricted on all existing links as a consequence of poor track and bridge conditions. The maximum speed for freight trains has been quoted as 24 km per hour, suggesting that commercial speeds on this section could be as low as 12-14 km per hour.”

The report concluded: “Clearly, operation at such low speed levels would be inconsistent with the future provision of an efficient and competitive rail container service.”

Burma has a railroad network totaling 3,991 km (2,480 miles) in length, with more than 320 locomotives and 4,000 carriages. The 11 locomotives on Rangoon’s own suburban loop line, totaling 45.9 km, call at 39 stations and provide a major commuter service, selling about 150,000 tickets daily.

The popularity of the Rangoon commuter line leapt when fuel prices were hiked in August, 2007, and rail travel became considerably cheaper than the city bus service.

A Rangoon civil servant told The Irrawaddy that the cost of his daily journeys to and from work had halved since taking the train.

“Before September, only low-paid civil servants, vendors and laborers regularly traveled by train,” he said. “Nowadays you can see even high-ranking officials and businessmen on the train.”

Less desirable elements also favor train travel—drug addicts, for instance, who turn the carriages into “shooting galleries” when they reach the relative safety of the outer suburbs.

Beggars ride the train, including former servicemen disabled by war. Hawkers clamber precariously from one carriage to another along the connecting links, crossing them like a tightrope before plying their trade with cries of “Snacks, snacks!”

Riding the Rangoon commuter train is a good way to see a cross section of Burmese life.

An Irrawaddy reporter based in Rangoon contributed to this story

This photo essay appears in The Irrawaddy February 2008 issue

E-mail:   (Your e-mail will not be published.)

More Articles in This Section

bullet ‘Vote No’ Demonstrations in World Capitals

bullet ‘Three Nations’ Art on Show in Chiang Mai

bullet Naypyidaw’s Oscar Event

bullet Promising Young Burmese Talent behind the Lens

bullet A Visit with the Moustache Brothers

bullet Burma’s Road to Independence

bullet Burma's Blood-colored Gems

bullet Religion and Revolution

bullet Worldwide Protests Against Burmese Regime

bullet The Lost Boys of Sabah


Home |News |Regional |Business |Opinion |Multimedia |Sepcial Feature |Interview |Magazine |Archives |Research
Copyright © 2008 Irrawaddy Publishing Group. All Rights Reserved.