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The Saigon Monorail That Could Have Been (1966)

Saigon has been without an urban railway since the last streetcars were removed from its streets in 1957. With explosive population growth over the past 20 years, city planners commissioned a US$154 billion rail system, parts of which are already under construction. But you may be surprised to learn that 50 years ago, there was a plan to build a monorail system through the heart of Saigon.

Tim Doling recently detailed this dream deferred on his blog, Historic Vietnam. According to Tim, by the mid 1960s, South Vietnam’s railway system was left is ruins after constant attack by the National Liberation Front, leaving only 357km of operational tracks in 3 isolated sections.

By 1966, the American military began to build up its forces in the South but lacked the proper infrastructure to support the far-flung support bases and military facilities. US Army planners found that a refurbished rail network was the best way to address these logistics issues. 

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In June 1966, the US Military Assistance Command Việt Nam (MACV), USAID, the Saigon government and its Joint General Staff came up with a US$25 million “Railroad Sabotage Replacement Program” to restore the destroyed system.

The Ministry of Transport, seeing these massive investments, submitted plans for other infrastructure programs, including a massive, 15-story terminal (see images below) which would have housed offices, a hotel and apartments. Under the plan, the tracks at the old Saigon Railway Station (now 23/9 Park) would have been elevated and connected to the new terminal.

Sketch of the Saigon elevated railway station scheme.

Very early sketch of the Saigon elevated railway station scheme.


But the most ambitious part of the project was a 2-line, 16km monorail system that would linked Phú Lâm, Chợ Lón, Saigon and Gia Định (Bình Thạnh).

Tim details the exact path of the proposed monorail:

“Monorail Line 1 would have travelled 9.4km from Phú Lâm via Chợ Lớn to the Bến Thành Market on Diên Hồng (modern Quách Thị Trang) square. There, it would have connected with the 6.6km Monorail Line 2, which would have run along Hàm Nghi to the Sài Gòn waterfront, then northwest along Đại lộ Cường Để (đường Tôn Đức Thắng) to Hồng Thập Tự (đường Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai) and finally northeast to Đa Kao and Gia Định.”

Documents from the National Archives showed that the Ministry of Transport had commissioned “suspended metro” specialists SAFEGE-Transport (Société Anonyme Française d’ Etude de Gestion et d’ Entreprises) to build the two lines. Ironically, they would follow nearly the same route as the old streetcar system which was “abolished permanently and replaced by buses.”

With a price tag of at least US$48 million, and total reliance on foreign financial assistance, both the elevated terminal and monorail system were shelved.


[Historic Vietnam]

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