Eisenbahnkonzept zur Erschließung eines Landweges nach Myanmar und zum
WILL TAKE SIX YEARS TO FINISH-if all goes well. And because it worft make
money, it will require substantial public funding. But if the day comes
when Southeast Asia's leaders drive the last spike into the $2.5 billion
trans-Asia railway from Singapore to Kunming, it will make possible some
pretty exotic itineraries:
from Singapore, up the Malay Peninsula, across Indochina, and into China.
From there, the track's the limit. Pending an opening of North Korea's
railways and a proposed train tunnel between South Korea and Japan, the
passenger could wake up in Tokyo. Or, going in the other direction, he
could cross Siberia and wind up in the Scottish highlands.
is the grand vision of a project which leaders of the Association of
Southeast Asian Nations and China, meeting in Singapore in November, said
"should be moved forward." What began as a Malaysian idea four
years ago is finally to be implemented. "The key now is action, not
just talk," Singapore's Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong said at the
summit. "So from now, I believe, you will see more action."
pan-Asian efforts to build a common voice on political, economic and
security issues, it will be some time before
the trans-Asian railway can be declared a success. of the 5,5oo-kilometre
network from Singapore to Kunming in southwest China, 4,5oo kilometres
already exist in various states of repair as part of national railways.
The project is intended to link them, upgrade them, build new spurs, and
make the whole systern fünction as one.
cost of the project could escalate quickly, especially the spurs being
built to Burma and Laos. Security issues will be troublesome, particularly
at the Vietnam-China and BurmaThailand borders, where tensions could
hinder an efficient train service, deterring passengers and shippers alike.
A POLITICAL COMMUNITY
these issues will require just the sort of political will needed to make
diplomatic cooperation within Asean, as well as Asia, a reality~ In that
sense, the trans-Asia railway will prove a litmus test of that larger
is a way for Asia to invest in building a political community," says
K.S. Nathan, a specialist in regional affairs at the University of Malaya
in Kuala Lumpur. "It will show the extent to which ideological
division has fallen and economics has come to the fore in the region."
ifthe project never lives up to billing, it may still prove its worth.
Asean uses jaw-jaw to prevent war-war, what the jawjaw yields often seems
secondary as long as it keeps regional tensions down. Analysts say that
the real importance of the trans-Asia railway could be the political
benefits of building it and running it. "We are a region being built
on processes rather than results," says Nathan. "The railway is
another method of keeping the process of regionalism going."
in 196o, the United Nations proposed a Singaporeto-India railway through
Burma. But war and revolution put that idea on hold. Asia's economic boom
prompted Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to revive the idea in
1995, with a northem route through Vietnam and China. It was seen as a way
of helping spur development in Cambodia, Burma and Laos, which have since
5,5oo-kilometre line would run through seven Asean countries. New track on
the main line, a total Of43i kilometres, would join Thailand, Cambodia and
Vietnam at a cOst Of $700 million. But the biggest cost would be the spur
lines to Burma and Laos, covering 585 kilometres, including some very
difficult terrain, at a cost of $1.8 billion.
$2.5 billion estimate is probably far too low, says a Malaysian Transport
Ministry official. It does not include the cost to each country for
upgrading its existing network, including machinery to handle the transfer
of carriages and cargo on to different gauges of railway. Nor does it
include the new rail freight services promised to Indonesia, the
Philippines and Brunei to link them to the network.
at $2.5 billion, the feasibility study predicts that the project would not
be commercially viable. That means most of the funding will have to come
from governments and international development loans.
way, as a symbol and spur to political integration, it might be money well
spent. Says Nathan: "It will create an institution that cannot be