Yangon commuters face perilous train journeys

Yangon commuters face perilous train journeys
A woman walks pass near a train next people rides a train as they travel in Yangon on May 11, 2015. Photo: Reuters
Despite soaring hot season temperatures, Yangon’s central station is a hive of activity during rush hour
Published: 2:25 PM, May 20, 2017

YANGON — Despite newer trains and increased ridership, outdated stations with gaps of various sizes between the train platforms and train doors have forced commuters to alight by jumping – sometimes from moving trains – to the dismay of older or disabled commuters.

Mr Myat Noe, who works at a publishing house near Sule Pagoda, is a typical commuter who takes his chances jumping from the train to the platform every day. “At some stations, it’s easy to climb down from the train onto the platform, but sometimes the trains are so high and the platforms are so low that people have to jump down,” said Mr Myat Noe to The Myanmar Times. “Often, we need to do this quickly as the train is about to leave. I find it difficult.”

But he has no choice as the train is faster and cheaper than the bus. Usage of the ailing line has spiked in the past two years as streets have become increasingly clogged with traffic. For many, the train has become the only viable mode of transport.

Ms Mar Lar, who has to carry her baby with her, is another commuter who finds it hard getting on and off trains. “When I get on the train, the stairs to the door are so high. I also have to carry my baby. It is hard to get up if no one helps me,” she said. “I miss the wider wooden stairs from the old trains.”

According to another commuter, Tun Hlaing Win, who commutes from Hlaing to Central every day, the stairs for disembarking are sometimes much too high. “The stairs are … sometimes (as high as) a person’s shoulders. So we all need to jump down from the train, even when it is still moving.”

Ms Nwe Oo Mon, who rides daily on the Yangon-Bago train, said that the higher stairs had resulted in “my mother and aunt getting bruised while jumping down”.

Trains are still relatively affordable despite the overcrowding and the jumping. Currently, about 150,000 tickets are sold each day for the train network, at K100 (S$0.10) for a single trip and K200 for a round trip.

Also, the train service has improved in other aspects because the Yangon City Development Committee and Ministry of Transportation recently used loans from Japan and China to purchase new trains, which are indeed more modern.

Ms Mar Lar, for instance, said she was pleasantly surprised that it is more punctual and cleaner than before.

“Yes, some trains have air-conditioning and fans, and also they are clean, but the stairs are a problem,” said Mr Tun Hlaing Win.

More needs to be done to adapt most of the stations to the new carriages. One station that feels safe to commuters is the Phaung Taw Thee station.

A 72-year-old Bago native, Madam Tin Oo, who comes to Yangon every weekend to attend church, is satisfied with the platform at Phaung Taw Thee station, as it has been renovated so there is no gap between train and platform. “And all the ticket-sellers know me so I always get a seat,” she said.

But, for now, happy customers like Madam Tin Oo are the exception, not the norm. MYANMAR TIMES