Saigoneer

BackHomeOld SaigonOld Saigon CategoriesInfrastructure The Changing Faces of Saigon Railway Station, 1885-1983

The Changing Faces of Saigon Railway Station, 1885-1983

Travelers arriving by train in Hồ Chí Minh City sometimes express surprise that the main Saigon Railway Station is located in Hòa Hưng, some distance from the central business district. In fact, this is the third railway terminus in a city where each successive station has been built further away from the river.

Opened in 1885 to serve Indochina’s earliest railway line from Saigon to Mỹ Tho, the first Saigon Railway Station was located at the riverside end of Rue du Canton (modern Hàm Nghi Boulevard). From there, the rail track ran west along the center of the boulevard, cutting through what is now Quách Thị Trang Square and following the path of modern Phạm Hồng Thái and Lê Thị Riêng Streets en route to Chợ Lớn and Mỹ Tho.

The line’s first operator, the Compagnie des Chemins de Fer Garantis des Colonies Françaises(CCFGCF), built a large dépôt-atelier next to the line, in the area now occupied by the west end of Hàm Nghi Street and Quách Thị Trang Square.

In 1906-1908, CCFGCF’s successor, the Société Générale des Tramways à Vapeur de Cochinchine (SGTVC), added a freight spur which branched west from the station throat along Rue d’Adran (now Hồ Tùng Mậu Street) to connect with Saigon docks via the Khánh Hội Swing Bridge.

When construction of the Saigon – Nha Trang line got underway in 1901, its route initially followed the existing Saigon – Mỹ Tho line from Rue du Canton – by then known as Boulevard Krantz-Duperré – as far as the present-day Phù Đổng junction, where it branched northward along the Route de Thuan-Kieu (now Cách Mạng Tháng 8 Street) to Hòa Hưng and onward to Biên Hòa.

The location of the first Saigon Railway Station.

Realizing that the existing terminus was too small to serve two railway lines, the authorities drew up plans to build a larger station on the site of the existing dépôt-atelier at the western end of Boulevard Krantz-Duperré. However, when this scheme fell through, a temporary terminus had to be set up next to the modern Hàm Nghi – Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa intersection. Consequently, when the first 29-kilometer section of the Saigon – Nha Trang line was inaugurated on January 13, 1904, trains on the new line departed from this temporary terminus, while Saigon – Mỹ Tho line trains continued to use the old riverside station.

The redevelopment which accompanied the construction of the new Halles Centrales (Bến Thành Market) from 1910 onwards gave the colonial authorities the chance to rectify this unsatisfactory state of affairs by rerouting both the Saigon – Mỹ Tho and Saigon – Nha Trang railway lines into a single terminus southwest of the new market.

Construction of this second Saigon Railway Station got under way in 1911 and it opened in September 1915. Its southwest-facing alignment – preserved to this day in the shape of 23-9 Park on Hồ Chí Minh City’s popular “backpacker street”, Phạm Ngũ Lão – necessitated only minor modifications to the route of the Saigon – Mỹ Tho line, but the Saigon – Nha Trang line had to be completely realigned southward from Hòa Hưng along what is now Nguyễn Thượng Hiền Street.

The second Saigon Railway Station (pictured left) in 1916.

At the same time, the old dépôt-atelier was demolished, permitting Boulevard Krantz-Duperré to be extended westward into a spacious new square named Place Eugène Cuniac (now Quách Thị Trang Square), where a grand southern headquarters for the Chemins de Fer de l’Indochine (CFI) was built opposite the station entrance.

A single-track line was left in place along Boulevard Krantz-Duperré to maintain freight access to the Saigon port and this was connected to the new station by a rail spur across Place Cuniac.

Unfortunately, in subsequent years the colonial authorities realized that the new railway station blocked several main traffic arteries and in the mid-1920s its location was deemed to be “the cause of deplorable circulation and atrophication” in the city center.

A “platform’s eye view” of the second Saigon Railway Station.

By this time, too, as the construction of the Trans-Indochinois from Saigon to Hanoi neared completion, it was increasingly felt that the new station had insufficient capacity to deal with the anticipated increase in both passenger and freight traffic. Plans were therefore drawn up to relocate the terminus yet again – this time out of the city center to Hòa Hưng.

North of Hòa Hưng, the original path of the Saigon – Nha Trang line took it along Rue Capitaine Faucon (modern Trần Quang Diệu and Trần Huy Liệu Streets). However, a 3.6 million-piastre project of 1931 recommended that the line should be rerouted to the west of this alignment to terminate at Hòa Hưng, where a new Saigon Railway Station would be built, along with a locomotive depot and a gare de marchandises (freight depot). To access the new station, the final stretch of the Saigon – Mỹ Tho line would also be diverted northward from Phú Lâm. In fact, the project ran into various difficulties and was only partially completed.

By 1938, the Saigon – Nha Trang line north of Hòa Hưng had been rerouted along its current path and new freight and locomotive depots had been built on the deviation. However, for the time being Saigon Railway Station was left where it was.

Following the closure of the Saigon – Mỹ Tho branch line in 1958, CFI’s successor, the South Vietnamese Department of Railways (Sở Hỏa xa Việt Nam, HXVN), drew up its own scheme to close the unloved city center railway terminus and relocate it to Hòa Hưng. However, since it was unable to secure the necessary funds, the long-mooted northward relocation of the southern rail terminus would not be realized until after Reunification.

Saigon, 1964-1965. Photo by Fred Mucciardi.

From 1967 onwards, VC and North Vietnamese army attacks on the southern railway network intensified, and in the wake of the Tet Offensive of 1968, the HXVN found it increasingly difficult to maintain train services. By 1971, scheduled services in and out of Saigon had effectively ceased.

After Reunification in 1975, the restoration of the entire North-South railway to operation became a political priority. In December 1976, the first through-train services since 1945 ran between Hanoi and Saigon, now known as Hồ Chí Minh City.

Construction of the current terminus – the third Saigon Railway Station – began in 1978 on the site of the old French gare de marchandises. It was completed in November 1983, and after its inauguration, the old railway track into the city center was removed. The site of the old city-center terminus became 23-9 Park, named in memory of those patriots killed while resisting the British Indian forces who helped the French to reoccupy Saigon on September 23, 1945.

Interestingly, current plans for the future development of Hồ Chí Minh City as a rail hub call for the southernmost stretch of the North-South line from Bình Triệu into Hồ Chí Minh City to be rebuilt as an elevated fast line and extended through the city to a new terminus in the southwest suburb of Tân Kiên. Perhaps in future the sound of railway trains will once again be heard in the heart of the southern capital.

The third and current Saigon Railway Station.

Tim Doling is the author of the walking tours book Exploring Hồ Chí Minh City (Nhà Xuất Bản Thế Giới, Hà Nội, 2014) and also conducts four-hour Heritage Tours of Historic Saigon and Cholon. For more information about Saigon history and Tim's tours visit his website, www.historicvietnam.com.


Related Articles:

The Story of Saigon’s 'Jardin d’Espagne'

Date With the Wrecking Ball: The Catinat-Ciné Mosaics

Pierre Coupeaud and the Great Cyclo Trial of February 1936


Pin It
Submit to reddit