Sarah Turner, Binh N. Nguyen, Madeleine Hykes; Department of Geography, McGill University
In 2008, the Prime Minister of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam approved a major infrastructure project for the capital city Hanoi—the construction of an urban rail network consisting of eight lines spanning 318 kilometres. Line 2A, the first line of this Hanoi Urban Railway System, has been under construction since 2011, and while originally slated for completion in 2013, it remains non-operational as of February 2021. Spanning 13 kilometres across the city centre, Line 2A has encountered more than just construction setbacks, its reputation being tarnished by accidents, public scepticism over accessibility and convenience, and contractor choice. Indeed, two-thirds of the original financing came from loans from China, conditional on the consultants, construction, and materials being sourced from China. This paper focuses on how Hanoi residents relate to, experience, and negotiate this Chinese-Vietnamese infrastructure project. Drawing on interviews with Hanoi residents and urban planners between 2017 and 2021, we focus first on public perceptions of Line 2A, and how the Line’s intimate ties with China have resulted in pointed commentaries, arguably cementing long-standing socio-political critiques. Second, we analyze how the Line’s construction has impacted the livelihoods of informal motorbike taxi drivers, and how this might pan out in the future. While the Vietnamese state considers investing in urban infrastructure—such as Hanoi’s new railway system—as an important symbol of modern mobility, we find that Line 2A is not only creating new mobility privileges and inequalities, it is also raising broader concerns regarding the city’s future.
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