This tidbit of local news is ever so interesting for several reasons. First and foremost, herein we learn that the Vietnamese prime minister’s name is Dung. That’s his first name. We can bitch and whine about either or both of the candidates running for president in the U.S., but at least we’re not going to have to deal with a chief executive who’s named for fecal matter.

Secondly, an urban rail system in Saigon is good news and all, but given the rate at which most construction happens in Vietnam, I think 12 years is optimistic. I’ve watched (and listened to) the new home construction taking place on both sides of my house for about a month now, and I’m not terribly impressed. The work ethic is there, to be sure, but the technical end is still a little out of date. The scaffolding, for example, is made of wood. I’m not talking about two-by-fours, either, but pieces of wood recently ripped from trees – limbs, branches and such. I do not kid. Also, if you think government contractors are slow in America, you should see them move in a Communist nation. It’s like watching crippled snails procrastinate.

Finally, whether this will actually solve the traffic woes in HCMC is debatable. There are 80 million people in Vietnam and 40 million motorcycles – in a nation the size of California. Assuming the rate of population growth is greater than the annual rate of death by motorbike (a family of four was killed on a motorbike near where I live last week, and twice in the last three days I watched crowds of spectators form as two-wheelers burned in the middle of the roadway), those numbers will be a lot higher in 12 years. Maybe our beloved leader knows something I don’t, but I plan to keep my expectations firmly in check. If Dung has any sense, he will, too. Otherwise he could find himself in deep doodoo.

Vietnam plans $15 billion for city railway systems

The Vietnamese government said today it plans to spend billions building two urban railway networks to help ease the ever-worsening traffic congestion in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung approved a US$14.8 billion plan to build commuter railway networks inside traffic-choked Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City over the next 12 years.

Hanoi will receive $7.3 billion to build seven railway lines, including sky trains and subways, according to a statement released on the government’s website on Sunday. Of the total cost, $5.5 billion will come from foreign investment.

Ho Chi Minh City will receive $7.5 billion, of which $6.3 billion will be foreign invested, to build six urban railways and metro lines.

Prime Minister Dung has asked officials to speed up preparations for the elevated and underground railway systems and focus on attracting overseas aid and loans for the projects, according to the statement.

“The project will help to ease congestion which happens everyday in the cities and has become chronic,” Nguyen Van Cong, chief administrator at the Ministry of Transportation said in a phone interview with Bloomberg Monday. “It will also help limit traffic accidents and improve cities’ environments.”

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