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Aug 18, 2023 / 14:05

Capital Law to serve as catalyst for urban railway development

Sluggish road development due to challenges such as compensation and site clearance issues, as well as budget constraints, hindered progress.

The upcoming revised Capital Law is of great importance as it seeks to promote the progress of the city and the broader capital region. Its main aim is to advance key social infrastructure projects, including road improvements and the development of the urban railway network.

 The urban railway section Cat Linh - Ha Dong. Photo: Hai Linh/The Hanoi Times

The concept of establishing an urban rail network was born out of the limitations of the existing intercity and regional road transportation system, which was inadequate for development.

The sluggish expansion of roads due to challenges such as compensation and land clearance issues, as well as budgetary constraints, hindered progress. In addition, the urban landscape developed haphazardly along fragmented roads without a clear legal framework.

Some elements of the urban rail system were poorly planned as stopgap solutions. It was evident that there was a mismatch between policy guidelines, regulations and compensation for land clearance and actual needs. The construction of effective lines was hampered by inadequate land allocation. Planned routes often attempted to cut through neighborhoods. Coordination between modes was virtually nonexistent.

Hanoi's master plan for 2030 outlines broad criteria for urban rail expansion, but feasibility remains uncertain. While individual lines are perceived as independent infrastructure projects, effective development of the rail system requires integration with station planning. This includes synchronizing urban revitalization and land preparation, as well as the development of public spaces, pedestrian walkways, and hubs in busy areas such as markets, shopping centers, offices, hospitals, and schools. This comprehensive approach would enhance the attractiveness, convenience, and practicality of pedestrian spaces and align Hanoi with global trends of environmentally friendly, sustainable, and energy-efficient urban development.

Based on the practical experience gained from the implementation of the pilot rail project Line 3, Nhon - Hanoi Station section, it's clear that in order to ensure the smooth implementation of future light rail lines, it is crucial to re-evaluate and modify mechanisms and policies that have become outdated and, in some cases, hindering. This is especially true in the context of challenges related to land clearance, financing, and skilled human resources.

First and foremost, the process of site clearance needs to be proactive. This complex task has highlighted certain shortcomings, including the sluggish pace of clearance, incomplete synchronization of resettlement requirements, complex complaints related to clearance, limited transparency in policy implementation, and inadequate mobilization and communication efforts for projects. Improving the efficiency of land clearance within Hanoi is therefore an urgent priority.

Existing legal provisions, such as Article 86 of the 2013 Land Law and Article 35 of the 2014 Housing Law, stipulate that the return of residential land to its owners should only take place after the construction of houses or infrastructure in resettlement areas has been completed.

Compensation authorities are required to inform affected persons of resettlement plans, including detailed information on the location, size, design, area of each plot or apartment, land prices, and housing costs for resettlement.

However, practical experience shows that the compensation process for site clearance often takes 2-3 years, and sometimes decades, depending on factors such as the size of the land acquisition, the number of displaced households, and the resources available for resettlement housing.

The proposed amendment to the Capital Law outlines the separation of compensation, support, resettlement, and site clearance into independent projects, with implementation to begin once the investment policy for the primary project is approved.

Investment capital is the linchpin for the construction of urban infrastructure, especially a rail system. While the return on invested capital remains significant, the immense total investment doesn't provide immediate direct benefits to offset this outlay. Currently, reliance on concessional loans serves as a stopgap strategy, albeit with potential limitations in terms of loan terms, competitive bidding restrictions, and withholding of proprietary technology by foreign contractors.

The proposed amendment to the Capital Law emphasizes that the Hanoi People's Committee should organize auctions or tenders for land use rights, underground and overground construction rights in Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) zones, based on public transport planning, urban railway plans, and detailed regional planning.

Hanoi is authorized to retain the entire revenue from land use right auctions, land use fees for underground projects, and fees for overhead works within the TOD area. These revenues can be used to invest in the construction of the rail, a public transport system linked to it, and technical infrastructure linked to the stations. This proactive capital approach could effectively address the above challenges.

In the past, the lack of universities specializing in urban railways resulted in a shortage of specialized human resources in this field. Domestic engineers were typically drawn from three sources: those who studied relevant disciplines abroad (a limited number), those with training in related fields within the country (such as traditional railways, bridges, tunnels) who learned further through hands-on project involvement, and individuals who lacked proper training, adhered to old practices, and could only contribute in supplementary roles.

In the last five years, prestigious national universities have introduced new programs related to urban railways. The University of Transportation, for example, has established majors in urban railway construction, operation, locomotives, rolling stock, control signal systems, and more. However, classrooms provide only basic knowledge; therefore, continuous training and retraining within the companies involved as investors and contractors is of great importance.

The quality of human resources reflects the "health" of an organization, which includes not only professional skills, but also discipline, adaptability to new knowledge, and workplace culture. The quality of human resources, which extends beyond the railways, will be significantly improved if the draft amended capital law places special emphasis on this issue. Specifically, the proposal emphasizes the importance of cultivating competent human resources as a fundamental task to build a workforce with intelligence, skills, and abilities that meet the demands of the labor market and align with the capital's development goals.

In each phase, the capital's government would focus on expanding educational, training, and vocational institutions (both public and private) and aligning them with the priority sectors and areas outlined in the prime minister's development strategies. Companies, organizations and associations would be encouraged to participate in training activities in accordance with legal requirements. Cooperation with regional and international partners would be promoted by the capital's educational institutions, thereby increasing the effectiveness of quality human resources training.

A specific portion of the capital's budget would be allocated to increase spending on applied research, technology development, and investment in the education, training, and vocational systems, with the overall goal of developing a large pool of skilled human resources.

By establishing mechanisms to remove barriers, an inherent developmental impetus would emerge that would not only impact the urban rail sector, but also extend its influence more broadly.