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A Brief History of the Vietnam Railways Building Before Its 110th Birthday

The iconic Bến Thành Market is not the only Saigon landmark that has endured for more than a century. The Vietnam Railways building at 138 Hàm Nghi, given its inauguration in 1914, is pushing the 110-year milestone in less than six months.

When construction of the southernmost section of the Transindochinois (North-South) railway line got under way in 1904, it was envisaged that the existing terminus of the Saigon-Mỹ Tho Line at the riverside end of Rue de Canton (modern Hàm Nghi boulevard) would serve both lines. However, when the first northbound trains began operating, the colonial authorities realised that a larger station was required.

An early 20th-century image of the Chemins de fer de l’Indochine (CFI) building with the Halles centrales in the background.

In 1910, a scheme was drawn up under Saigon mayor Eugène Cuniac to reroute both railway lines as they entered the city centre, building a larger Saigon Railway Station in reclaimed swamp land to the west, and demolishing an old locomotive depot to free up land for the construction of a new central market and spacious city square.

Colonial-time taxis parking on the side of the building.

The project was beset by delays, but the Halles centrales (modern Bến Thành Market) finally opened on Place Eugène Cuniac (now Quách Thị Trang Square) in March 1914, and the second railway station on the site of today’s 23/9 Park in September 1915. 

As part of this scheme, the Chemins de fer de l’Indochine (CFI) built itself an imposing new southern region railway headquarters on place Eugène Cuniac, right opposite the station entrance. It was inaugurated in 1914, a full year before the opening of the new railway station. Each level of the ornate three-storey building incorporates a spacious outer corridor which shields the offices from the heat of the external walls.

The building in 2014 with the Quách Thị Trang Roundabout still intact. Photo by Tim Doling.

In May 1952, when CFI became the Việt Nam Department of Railways (Sở Hỏa xa Việt Nam, HXVN), the railway building became its southern branch headquarters. Just three years later, HXVN became the southern rail operating company, responsible to the South Vietnamese Ministry of Public Works and Transport.

A late-colonial image of the CFI building.

During the 1960s the railway headquarters acquired a certain notoriety after the sidewalk outside the building was turned into a place of execution. Today, the building functions as the Hồ Chí Minh City branch office of Vietnam Railways (VNR).

During the 1960s, the pavement outside the railway building was turned into a site for public executions.

As one of Saigon's oldest remaining structures, the Vietnam Railways building is in great need of conservation, even though its fate is still unclear today. Throughout the years, there have been numerous announcements regarding its future, some even involved demolition. The People's Committee of HCMC has classified the building as a municipal-level heritage site and expressed interests in using the site to host Saigon Metro operations, but VNR has continued to assert their ownership of the building.

This article was originally published in 2014 and received updates in 2023.

Tim Doling is the author of the guidebooks Exploring Huế (Nhà Xuất Bản Thế Giới, Hà Nội, 2018), Exploring Saigon-Chợ Lớn (Nhà Xuất Bản Thế Giới, Hà Nội, 2019) and Exploring Quảng Nam (Nhà Xuất Bản Thế Giới, Hà Nội, 2020) and The Railways and Tramways of Việt Nam (White Lotus Press, 2012). For more information about Saigon history, visit his website,

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