Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Feasibility study to rebuild ‘Death Railway’ nears completion

Wednesday, 23 January 2013 17:31 Kun Chan

The results of a feasibility study to rebuild the Thanbyuzayat-Three Pagoda Pass section of the Thailand-Burma Railway will be announced at the end of January, officials at Myanmar Railways have told Mizzima.

A trestle bridge on the Burma–Thailand Railway built by Allied prisoners of war and conscripted Asian labourers, near Hintok, in Thailand. (Photo: Australian War Memorial)

Also known as the Death Railway, the track was originally built by the Japanese between 1942 and 1943 as they attempted to create a supply route from Thailand to Burma. Under the horrific conditions the Japanese troops enforced, nearly 100,000 people, including 80,000 Burmese, died while building the infamous 280 km stretch, which was largely destroyed following World War II.

The ordeal of the prisoners of war and Asian forced laborers, who had to break down mountains and battle malnutrition, malaria and cholera, would go on to form the basis of the French novel, and subsequent movie, The Bridge On the River Kwai.

But rebuilding this important rail section is not without its obstacles—more than 14 km of the track passes through Karen lands, while another 92 km are in Mon lands.

“The survey has begun, but some of the lands are controlled by a ceasefire group. We dare not enter in to their land without agreement,” said Tin Myint, the Chief Civil engineer of Myanmar Railways Division No. 8.

The government has already negotiated with the Mon State government and the New Mon State Party; currently, the government is in talks with the Karen State government about the project.

Tin Myint, the engineer of Myanmar Railways Division 8, said, “Government officials held discussions with Karen State government officials at their office. The Karen State government office will now negotiate with the two Karen groups.”

Railway Minister Aung Min said that the Thanbyuzayat-Three Pagoda Pass Road will be rebuilt and that an economic zone will be established in Three Pagoda Pass.

On December 15 last year, President Thein Sein told political parties in Moulmein in Mon State that the government will rebuild the railroad and the road, and open a border trade center on the Thai-Burmese border.

The new railway will be based on the existing old railway and images from satellite maps, said a spokesperson for the Engineering Department under Myanmar Railways. They will then use the information to plan the new railway along the most viable route.

Once the feasibility study has been carried out, the findings will be submitted to the Rail Transportation Ministry to review and then given to the Burmese parliament to make the final decision on how the project will be implemented.

Local business people have said that the plan to rebuild the “Death Railway” is part of the Kalegauk deep-sea port project in Ye Township in Mon State. Kalegauk is one of four deep-sea ports that will be built along the Burmese coastline.

Ongoing developments in the region have pushed property prices up: previously, the price of a 40 foot x 60 foot piece of land on the outskirts of Three Pagodas Pass ranged from US $2,300 to $3,200. But following the agreements of ceasefires with the New Mon State Party and the Karen National Union, the price increased to the range of $10,000 to more than $14,000.
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