MANILA, PHILIPPINES - The Asian Development Bank (ADB) will provide a technical assistance grant to help countries in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) achieve greater connectivity through coordinated railway development.
Railways in the GMS countries have developed independently. With the exception of a connection between the People's Republic of China (PRC) and Viet Nam, the GMS countries' national railways are not interconnected.
The ADB grant will assist GMS countries in preparing a detailed plan for setting up the GMS Railway Coordination Office (RCO), including a business and a financing plan for its first five years of operation. The GMS countries will jointly manage the RCO.
"The initiative to establish the RCO reflects the growing realization by the GMS countries of the need for an interconnected and integrated railway network in the subregion," said James Lynch, director for transport and urban development in ADB's Southeast Asia Department.
In view of increasing subregional trade, growing concerns over climate change, and sharply fluctuating fuel costs, the GMS countries have progressively recognized the importance of upgrading their national railway networks and for interconnecting these with those of their neighbors.
"Integrating railways does not only involve investing in infrastructure, which in itself is difficult due to technical and operational differences among the countries' railways," Mr. Lynch said. He added that integration also entails reconciling and harmonizing the software aspects of the transport sector such as compatible immigration, customs, and health regulations and procedures at the borders as well as systems for fair and efficient handling of administrative functions such as ticketing and revenue distribution.
The RCO will provide the venue and mechanisms for addressing such issues. Recognizing that an integrated railway system offers an efficient and environment-friendly transport mode to link their economies, the GMS countries requested ADB's assistance in undertaking a GMS Railway Strategy Study in 2009. The study led to the development of a Strategic Framework for Connecting GMS Railways, which recommends the establishment of the RCO. The 16th GMS Ministerial Conference held in Ha Noi in August this year endorsed the GMS railways framework.
The GMS Economic Cooperation Program, with the support of ADB, has an impressive record of accomplishments in fostering connectivity through the development of road corridors that criss-cross the region.
The GMS is made up of Cambodia, the People's Republic of China (PRC, specifically Yunnan Province and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region), Lao People's Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Thailand, and Viet Nam.