Train services have room for improvement

Next week:

Dogs and cats in Western countries are considered as pets and live with humans as friends or companions. However, in many countries such as China, South Korea and Viet Nam, dog meat is readily consumed and is cooked in various dishes. Vietnamese people, especially in the northern region enjoy this food.

A Vietnamese person recently raged a public debate for saying that eating dog meat is an expression of cruelty which will destroy the country’s cultural values and spirit. He said Viet Nam should give up eating dog meat if the country wishes to become truly civilised and integrate more with the rest of the world.

What do you think about this idea and Viet Nam’s dog meat eating habit? How do you feel when tasting this meat or witnessing people eat it? Should Vietnamese people give up their eating habit of dog meat? Tell us your reasons.

Please reply by email to: opinion@vnsmail.com, or by fax to (84-4) 3 933 2311. Letters can be sent to The Editor, Viet Nam News, 11 Tran Hung Dao Street, Ha Noi. Replies to next week’s questions must be received by Thursday morning, April 18, 2013

Last week, Viet Nam News asked readers for their opinions on a plan to upgrade the speed of the current railway system and how Viet Nam can improve train services. Here are some responses:

William Ribbing, American, Florida, USA

Consider why people travel by train. First is the speed. Second is that you don’t have to drive. Third is to take the time to view the countryside.

In Viet Nam, the first reason is a waste due to the slow speed of an over 80-year-old system. Therefore the proposition to improve the rail system would meet this purpose. But what about the disadvantage of that fast travel, the costs must increase so travelers pay more for the convenience of speed.

The Government needs to ask one question. Is it necessary?

However rail travel also has accidents which can be even more disastrous. As for privacy, there is none on rail travel at this time.

Travelers are crowded into compartments and face additional dangers such as robbery, theft or other criminal activities. One must ask themselves if the convenience is worth the risk. The third purpose would be superfluous, simply because the countryside would fly past preventing those wishing to view the countryside the loss of their original intent.

It would benefit the Government to consider a high-speed rail service for transportation of goods for expediency and to include many side-rail destinations to less accessible destinations.

Viet Nam’s infrastructure regarding rail transportation needs an upgrade, without a doubt, but additionally many more smaller villages, towns and cities need to be included in the overall planning stage to improve access to outlying districts.

Current costs are not viable due to the greater expense necessary to operate an upgraded rail system, therefore prices would inevitably rise. Viet Nam’s current economy could not support the increase in pricing.

People, especially the poor, live adjacent to railways and children often play along those encroachments. New laws would be required to provide a safe environment for trains to travel without endangering the citizens.

Currently, road barriers indicating an approaching train are not adequate as proven by the numerous accidents and deaths to people crossing unmarked or unprotected railroad crossings. Stricter laws would be required with enforcement for breaching railroad barriers.

Viet Nam needs a much more modern educational system regarding railroad right-of-ways to inform the people of the dangers lurking along high-speed railroads. Therefore the Government needs to consider many obstacles before embarking on such a major task.

For instance, inclusion of security police on all trains for the safety of travelers. Safe barricades and warnings at all railroad crossings, including enforcement of new laws.

Oanh Nguyen, Vietnamese, Ha Noi

Last year, nearly 7 million international tourists visited the country. However, 83 per cent of them traveled by air, the rest traveled by road. Traveling by rail accounted for a negligible proportion. Why don’t they choose railway routes for traveling?

Traveling by railway has many advantages, including: high safety, environmental protection and convenience. To be honest, I do not like to go by train because its speed is too low compared with other means. Moreover, railway services are not good enough.

However, I affirm that prices of train tickets are suitable for all. In the era of development, I support upgrading train speed and services to improve railway tourism.

Peter Cromie, British, Penang Island, Malaysia

I have traveled many times on trains from Ha Noi to Hue, Da Nang, Nha Trang and HCM City on hard-sleeper. My most memorable train journey in Viet Nam was to and from Da Nang and Hue with its amazing scenery.

Until about 1998, the railway staff used to throw all the litter and used food containers out on to the tracks, thankfully that has now stopped.

Train travel is my preferred mode of travel whenever possible in Viet Nam because it’s more relaxed and comfortable for my taller-than-average size and buses are rather restrictive in space.

Most of my recent travels have been on the Nha Trang-HCM City route or vice versa with quite good food. I do recall many earlier trips where breakfast was quite ok with a steamed bun and tea or coffee.

Not knowing what the route might be for the new high speed service. I would wish that the present Da Nang to Hue route be retained with the present slower running rolling stock. This is a wonderfully scenic section that I always enjoy so much, indeed I plan to use the local non air-conditioned train next time I do this section. My only suggestion is that toilets should be cleaner.

Charlie White, Australian

There could be more luxurious carriages, similar to those on the Indian Pacific and the Ghan, at a surcharge price. There could also be a super luxurious train from HCM City and Ha Noi similar to the E&O Express which might cost US$5,000 or 6,000 for the trip.

One should not have a dispute over the seat one has booked, which regularly happens in China. There could also be good waiting facilities at stations such as those in China for soft-sleeper passengers.

There used to be a steam-hauled train running out of Ha Noi. With worldwide advertising and being on the internet it could be a paying proposition. Not all tourists are looking for luxury.

There is big business in adventure tourism, on shorter trips, say from HCM City to Nha Trang or a similar trip out of Ha Noi to Ha Long Bay. My first trip on a Vietnamese train was from Vinh to Ha Noi in a non air-conditioned hard-sleeper with a group of adventure tourists.

Trang Tran, Vietnamese, Ha Noi

We obviously can’t compare our trains with those I have traveled on in Europe where it’s clean, comfortable and at the level that you can actually read a book throughout the ride like sitting in your home and the glass of water does not shake. But obviously we need to improve our train services, at least to the level of regional countries.

For now, I’m scared of going on trains in Viet Nam. Most are dirty, slow and risky. There’s nothing enjoyable about train travel in this country. I welcome the move to improve the speed, but I think it would take many years for it to become a reality.

For now, why not invest in improving the services of current routes? Maybe the speed is slow but can we make the carriages at least cleaner?

Andrew Burden, Canadian, Ha Noi

I look forward to my first train ride later this year when I will take an overnight trip from Ha Noi to Sapa. My German friend took a Sai Gon-return trip with his Vietnamese wife and kids during Tet without complaint. My several overnight trips in Thailand went well, and I anticipate the same here in Viet Nam.

There are always several concerns: safety of the rails, engine and cars, as well as cleanliness and crimes of opportunity while aboard. Trains may not be the fastest means of transport, nor can they serve or divert to other roads as a bus can, but they are quite roomy and generally arrive on time.

I have heard from tourists of price gouging and shady ticket sales from unscrupulous travel agents. As a resident of Ha Noi, I will ask one of my local contacts for assistance.

Providing my fellow passengers are not carrying fighting cocks or other manner of birds and reptiles, I predict a smooth and successful journey. — VNS

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