RANGOON — As many as 100,000 passengers are now riding Rangoon’s circular train line every day, as residents increasingly shun the city’s growing traffic jams and overfull buses.
Traffic congestion has grown significantly since the Burmese government lifted car import restrictions in October 2011. With the increase in vehicles on the roads, journeys in the former capital can take twice as long as they used to.
“Riding the buses is really tiring. All the buses are always overcrowded…and the traffic congestion on the roads is heavy,” said Thet Thet Oo, from North Okkalapa Township, as she waited for a train at the city’s Central Railway Station.
She chooses the train, she said, even though it takes an hour and 15 minutes to travel from her home to downtown, a quarter of an hour longer than it takes on the bus.
“Although the train takes a little more time than buses, I prefer the circle line because it is more comfortable. No overcrowding, no traffic jams and also the air is really cold,” she said.
Thet Thet Oo has taken advantage of the recent addition of air-conditioned carriages, which are gaining popularity as temperatures soar this hot season.
“In the past, I would not usually ride the circular train. But I started riding this month because there are new air-conditioned and upper-class trains on the circular railway,” she said.
Rangoon’s circular train line began operation in 1964. It stops at 38 stations along the 29.5-mile route connecting satellite towns and suburban areas with downtown, according to Htun Aung Thin, general manager of Myanma Railways (Lower Myanmar Administration).
He said the number of passengers was rising, and according to official figures, between 90,000 and 100,000 people were now using the circle train daily.
Fares are 100 kyat (about US$0.10) for a seat in a regular cabin, 200 kyat for a seat in a special cabin, 300 kyat for upper-class trains and 400 kyat for air-conditioned trains.
“Upgrade operations began at the start of last year. We extended the number of circular trains running up to 215 per day, the two new upper-class trains and one air-conditioned train began running on the circle line in late 2013,” said Htun Aung Thin.
He added that there is a plan to further upgrade the railway with the help of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), but he said he was not sure when it would be implemented.
The trains were run at a loss, he said, but they provide an invaluable service to people.
“We made the extensions to be more convenient for all commuters, mainly for lower- and fair-income commuters who mostly use the train for transportation and also because the demand of the circular train is increasing due to traffic congestion.”
Among the circle train’s passengers are more than 100 foreigners every day, many simply riding the train for pleasure.
San Htay, an officer of the ticket counter at the Central Railway Station, said that the number of tourists riding the circle line is going up, with visitors from America, Germany, Australia, Japan and Korea using the trains for sightseeing.
Since April 1, the ticket price for foreigners has been the same as the price for locals. Foreigners were previously charged $1, he said, adding that tourists appeared to be happy with the change.
“The number of the tourists is ranging from just over 100 to 200 in the past two years. It didn’t even reach 100 in the past,” he said.
“The number of tourists who ride the circular train is increasing year by year, together with an increase in the number of tourists coming to Burma,” said Ma Thidar, a tour guide who takes tourists on the circle train.
Tourists enjoy the chance the train gives them to view different parts of the city, and different aspects of city life, she said.
“It is my first time here in Burma,” said American tourist Catherine Peterson, who tried out the circle train recently.
“I am going to take the half-day tour on the circular train to experience how the transportation works in Yangon, and to see the local people’s life,” she said.