Ho Chi Minh City wants its first metro line finished in 2020

The HCMC Management Authority for Urban Railways (MAUR) says that it wants to have 80 percent of the Ben Thanh – Suoi Tien metro line finished in 2019 and that trials runs should begin in October 2020, despite funding and personnel challenges.

Tran Vinh Tuyen, Deputy Chairman of the city, speaking at an event, said that MAUR should overcome all difficulties to meet this deadline. Tran said in a statement on the government’s website baochinhphu.vn, that the city is willing to make advance payment to the Japanese contractor before getting funds from the government.

Last month, MAUR asked the city to make an advance payment of $97 million USD to the Japanese contractors, who had been waiting for their payments for more than one year. Since 2017, the city has made payments of $140+ million USD to contractors, but has only received $25.4 million USD from the central government so far.

Bui Xuan Cuong, Director of MAUR, said 80% of the work would be completed this year.

The line, from Ben Thanh to Suoi Tien, faced many difficulties last year and the increase of the projects costs from $747 million USD to more than $2 billion USD was not approved until January 2019. 

The HCMC metro project has embarrassed both the national and city governments because of delays and cost overruns, and adding to the criticism, Umeda Kunio, Japanese Ambassador to Vietnam, said last November that the Japanese contractor’s unpaid bills amounted to $100 million USD and that the Japanese contractors would stop their work at the end of December unless payment issues were resolved. 

The metro-project has also encountered “internal difficulties” with more than 50 personnel quit the management board as of November 2018. 

Departures include, Hoang Nhu Cuong, Deputy Director of the project’s management board who left the country to travel to the U.S. in early December, without approval of the city People’s Committee.

The city’s first metro project started in August 2012 and its route runs 20 kilometers (12.43 miles) through five of Ho Chi Minh City’s districts. These include districts 1, 2 and 9, as well as Binh Thanh, and Thu Duc in HCMC, and Di An District in the neighboring province of Binh Duong.

The metro-line will run underground for 2.6 km from Ben Thanh Market past the Opera House and Ba Son Shipyard, and then cross the Saigon River on elevated track in District 2 on the way to Suoi Tien Park and the terminus at Long Binh in District 9.

By December 2018, it was expected that 65% of the work on the metro-line would be completed, but MAUR says that only 62% of the work was completed by December. It was acknowledged that contractors had “slowed down their work” because of the lack of payment to them, so MAUR and the city are hoping that the payments that have been made to date, along with promises of advanced payments will keep the metro-line on track.