[HCMC Metro Map (download full resolution image here.]
Out of all the megacities of Southeast Asia, Saigon is the only city without any form of metro transport. Even the traffic-dystopias of Jakarta and Manila have a few rail lines between them.
This will change when the first metro line in Saigon opens sometime after 2020 (sometime being the operative word). In total there are 6 metro lines, 1 light rail, and 2 monorails planned.
When I was compiling information about proposed Southeast Asia railways I kept a separate file of Saigon metro news. It was interesting to see how far back the metro planning goes, and what is planned in the future. I found records dated from 2004, and another feasibility study that had a 2-line metro being completed in 2008 [
There are some maps of the future metro which have since become outdated as the plans have changed. These maps also left out the tram and monorail lines.
I have created the new map of the proposed Ho Chi Minh City Metro which includes the light rail and monorail lines. Note that this map will no doubt go out of date as well once alignments and stations are adjusted, or new lines planned. I’ve dated the map at the bottom and will update the map as needed.
There is one official map which is at the People’s Committee of Hochiminh City Management Authority For Urban Railways (MAUR), under “Master plan of urban railways system”.
This is the construction and investment news site, so this is not a map for future transit users.
Below I have outlined the details of each line.
As of 2017, Line 1 is the only line under construction. There was a ground-breaking ceremony in 2008, but construction didn’t get underway until 2012. At that point, it was estimated that the line would be finished by 2017. Like most new metro systems, the first line is always delayed and over budget, so this was probably to be expected.
Line 1 is now scheduled to be completed in 2020, and it will be extended by one stop to the new Mien Dong (Eastern) bus terminal.
[The new Mien Dong Bus Station and connected metro (image from Tuoi Tre News.]
On the map I have included two proposed extensions that have been submitted by neighbouring provinces of Binh Duong and Dong Nai. Alignment and station details are lacking for those extensions so the lines on the map are for general illustration.
Here is a summary of construction projects near Line 1 Ho Chi Minh City Metro.
Line 2 is the second line (logically enough) to have begun construction. Begun in this instance was a ceremonial shovel event in 2012 to build an administration office. No progress has been made on the railway, and it was announced that work may not resume until 2020.
This line will go from Ben Thanh to the An Suong bus terminal. This is also known as the Tay Ninh bus terminal, which has lead some news reports to say that the metro is going all the way to Tay Ninh (100 km from Saigon). Line 2 is planned to be extended to Cu Chi.
Line 2 will travel underneath CMT8 road, which is one of the worst traffic sewers in the city. Commuters will rejoice at going underground and never having to see that road again. Some of the old maps show the line deviating from the path to make a junction with Ga Sai Gon (the main station for trains to Hanoi). The line is not deviating, so Hoa Hung metro station will be about 400 metres away from Ga Sai Gon.
One solution to this would be to clear the area between the two stations and build an underground mall and shopping complex to connect the stations. Something in comparison to the maze of underground shops at Shinjuku station in Tokyo, or Gangnam station in Seoul.
That’s a lot of land clearing, though it’s not beyond the capabilities of the city. Indeed, just before Hoa Hung is the Dan Chu traffic circle, which is one of craziest roundabouts in Saigon. Next to the roundabout whole city blocks have been cleared to make way for mega developments. The Viettel Tower is half finished, and behind that is the Hado Centrosa Garden, and near that is the planned Berjaya Vietnam Financial Centre.
[Dan Chu Roundabout.]
The Hado Centrosa Garden construction is proceeding well, and the project is advertising itself as being near the metro station. Line 2 was meant to be finished by 2018, so you can’t blame them for using that as a selling point. Unfortunately these big projects are racing ahead and transport infrastructure is not keeping up. Line 2 can’t begin soon enough.
[Hado Centrosa Garden construction.]
From Ben Thanh, Line 2 will be extended under the Saigon River and terminate at Ga Thu Thiem. This is where the railway for Long Thanh International Airport will be, and maybe one day the high speed train to Nha Trang.
Line 3 is split into two projects: 3A and 3B. Line 3A is an extension of Line 1. It looks confusing on the map to have a line terminate at the main station in the middle of the system. It has been confirmed though that Line 1 and Line 3A will be one continuous line. The current numbering system is more likely to be project numbers, so eventually this will be represented on the official map as Line 1. For the sake of being able to follow the construction progress I’ve kept the project numbers as they are represented on the MAUR website.
The city finalised plans in November 2017 to begin construction of 3A, which would see the line finished by 2026. Here is a preview video of what to expect from Line 3A.
The first phase of 3A will from travel Ben Thanh to Mien Tay Bus Terminal (Western Bus Terminal), so line 1/3A will be bookended by bus terminals.
Phase two will extend from Mien Tay to Tan Kien, which is the location of the proposed western bypass railway that will go from My Tho to Bien Hoa. I’ve included the outline of the proposed railway to show where each metro line connects to this proposed railway.
Line 3B starts from Cong Hoa station on Line 3A and travels to Hiep Binh Phuoc Station in Thu Duc District. Funding for this line was being sought in 2015. There are also plans to extend this line beyond Hiep Binh Phuoc, though news reports vary on where. Some reports have the line extending to Thu Dau Mot in Binh Duong province, which is 32 km from Ben Thanh. Other reports have it connecting to the extended Line 1 at Di An Town. I have added this option on the map as a possible extension.
Line 4 will be the third line that intersects at the Ben Thanh central station (when counting 1/3A as one continuous line). This 36 km north-south line was quoted as requiring $4.5 billion dollars in 2015, so probably another billion is needed by now.
I’ve not found a confirmed alignment for this line. Old maps show it running from Ben Thanh to Opera House alongside Line 1, then branching off towards Turtle Lake. If this was the case then 4 tunnels would be needed on Le Loi.
Line 4B / 4B1 (airport extensions)
Bundled into Line 4 are the two proposals for an extension to the airport. Originally there was no metro planned for the airport as it was assumed that the new Long Thanh airport would be running. With Tan Son Nhat becoming overcrowded and the new airport not even started to be built, these two proposals have been made.
4B would run between Gia Dinh Park on Line 3 and Lang Cha Ca and Line 5, stopping at the airport in between. Proposal 4B1 would run underground from Hoang Van Thu Park to TSN as a spur line from Line 5.
Line 5 forms half a ring around the city centre and will enable transferring between all the previous lines from the outer districts.
€850 million was pledged for metro line No.5 in 2013, with construction of the first phase initially to begin in 2015.
The second phase of the line was seeking funds in 2016, even though the first phase had not begun. This is the western segment which continues from the Bay Hien intersection to Can Giuoc Bus Station.
Line 6 feeds the outer western districts of Saigon to the first two lines. Eventually Line 6 could become an outer ring line, connecting more lines along the way.
Tram Way No.1
Saigon’s original transport system was a tram network, of which the last tram ran in 1957. The streets of Saigon are too crowded for trams now, but the route along Vo Van Kiet has enough space to run a light rail down the middle.
[Vo Van Kiet – 10 lanes wide here, so enough room for a light rail.]
This line was proposed in 2006, with the service being ready by 2009 (file this under “news that didn’t age well”).
In addition to the light rail, there are two monorails planned. This is not the first time there has been a plan for a monorail in Saigon. In the 1960’s there was a proposal for two suspended monorail lines.
That would have been similar to the Wuppertal Schwebebahn in Germany, which is the only suspended monorail in operation. The Schwebebahn travels along a river through the city, and it must rank as the world’s most steampunk form of public transport.
I was a monorail sceptic until recently. Monorails are usually associated with theme parks and airport transportation. Sentosa Island in Singapore is a good example of an appropriate use of a monorail.
Sydney had a much-derided monorail that used to loop around the city centre. They have since pulled it down and are now building a light rail that will pass through the city.
The other terrible monorail that comes to mind is the Kuala Lumpur monorail. This line goes through central KL, connecting the main train station to one of the biggest tourist areas (Bukit Bintang). The carriages are small and the city has far outgrown the intended capacity of this service. I always think of that Simpsons episode with the monorail when I ride it.
[The monorail industry must hate this episode of the Simpsons.]
So I never met an urban monorail that I liked until I went to Tokyo. The monorail from Haneda airport is spacious and still feels like a metro train, so if Japan have anything to do with the monorail projects of Saigon, then I am all for it [
[Onboard the monorail to Haneda Airport.]
Monorail 2 will traverse the new districts of 2 and 7. I would have thought there was enough room for a proper skytrain like the current Line 1, but if it’s of Japanese quality then I’m cool with the monorail. This will travel along Nguyen Van Linh in District 7, which is already getting to the point where traffic is jamming.
The MAUR website also has Monorail 2 going through Thao Dien to Thanh Da in Binh Thanh. I have no idea how that would work – I’m just recording what is on their map, so Thaodienites don’t message me for details.
Monorail 3 will start at Go Vap station on Line 4 and travel to Quang Trung Software City and terminate at Tan Chan Hiep. This would connect to the proposed belt railway from An Binh station to Tan Kien and onwards to the Mekong Delta. This line is scheduled to begin in 2019, taking 5 years to complete.
Ben Thanh Central Station
The most visible sign of metro construction is in the heart of the city at Ben Thanh Market. The previously (in)famous traffic roundabout is now a giant construction site for the central station of the metro. Three lines will converge here, so it’s a complex operation.
[Ben Thanh Station construction – November 2017.]
A render of the station was produced early on, and it hasn’t been updated since. Opposite the station is the One Central HCM project.
[Ben Thanh Station – Image from MAUR.]
Since the initial plan was released it was announced that an underground mall will be built between Ben Thanh and Opera House stations. The 500 metre-long shopping area will run under Le Loi Street. As with the monorail, I too was a skeptic of the underground mall concept until I went to Tokyo. I would welcome an underground mall with a labyrinth of shops and standing sushi bars if that is what is going to happen. The project has attracted interest from an investor from Japan, so one can only hope that a Tokyo-style mall is on the cards.
The map also includes current and proposed lines operated by Vietnam Railways. A fully functional transit network has interconnectivity between metro and regional railways so I have put that on the map for future context. The only railway currently operating is the Saigon-Hanoi line, and the first stop is at Bien Hoa, just outside the city limits of Ho Chi Minh City. In its current form, it doesn’t offer any place to transfer to a metro line.
The map includes a proposed western ring railway that would travel from Bien Hoa to the Mekong Delta.
For the proposed extension of Metro Line 1 to Bien Hoa New City, I’ve taken the liberty to connect that to the planned Bien Hoa – Vung Tau line.
Other proposed metro lines
The routes on this map are the officially published lines from MAUR. There have been other proposals in the news which I will add to an expanded map (subscribe for updates).
The proposed new airport at Long Thanh is about 40KM east of the city. One proposal had a high-speed train from Thu Thiem to the airport, and then onwards to Nha Trang. Another report has the metro extending all the way to the new airport. I would be happy with both, like how London Heathrow has the option for the Underground line or the Heathrow Express.
In September 2017 a feasibility study was launched for a Tan Tạo – Linh Dong light rail line. There are no details for this but it would roughly be an outer northern ring line.
Another line was proposed by neighbouring Binh Duong Province to build a line from Thu Dau Mot Town which would connect to Line 1. That would be around where Di An is on the map and Thu Dau Mot is directly north of the city.
Metro station locations
While drawing this map I made a Google Map to keep track of the lines and station locations. The stations aren’t exact, and many of the stations are just named after the nearest main street, but this will give you a general idea of where the lines run.
[View the Google Map here.]
How feasible is this plan?
In 2015 the city announced that it set a target of completing this public transport system by 2030.
While the first line is expected to take eight years, the subsequent lines should be built faster once the city develops knowledge of metro building. If a line takes an average of five years to build, this is what the timetable would need to look like to get 9 lines finished by 2030.
2017 Line 1 under construction
2018 Line 2 start
2019 Line 3 start
2020 Line 4 start – Line 1 completed
2021 Line 5 start
2022 Line 6 start
2023 Line 7 start – Line 2 completed
2024 Line 8 start – Line 3 completed
2025 Line 9 start – Line 4 completed
2026 Line 5 completed
2027 Line 6 completed
2028 Line 7 completed
2029 Line 8 completed
2030 Line 9 completed
So a new line has to start every year until 2025. At its peak, there would be five lines under construction by 2022, and a new line becoming operational every year from 2023. By 2025 more lines should also have been considered, so a new metro is always being worked on. By then there is a team of skilled metro builders that don’t need to relearn how to make a metro.
The best-case scenario would be a timeline similar to this. The worst-case scenario would be for Line 1 to be completed and further construction grinding to a halt for another decade. There were reports of the construction stopping mid-way due to funding. At this point, there is no turning back, so the money will be found. The prospect of no future work being done on the other lines is real though. City development would then become lopsided as canyons of high-rise towers follow the length of the single metro. Just have a look at how Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok has developed to see what the power of a metro line has.
[Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok is a canyon of apartment towers following the Skytrain.]
One of the problems the city has faced has been the lack of autonomy over its finances. With the most recent funding shortage the city had dip into its own funds while waiting for funds to be released.
In what could be good news for the city more power has been handed to Ho Chi Minh City to make investment decisions for at least five years.
The first line is proceeding slowly, though when compared with other new lines in Asia it’s going ok. For example, the first metro line in Shanghai began construction in 1986, and the first 4.4 km segment began operations seven years later in 1993. From that humble beginning, the Shanghai Metro system is currently the world’s largest transit system by route length.
Another comparable example is Taipei. After getting approval for the first line in 1986, construction began in 1988. The first 10.5 km line was opened eight years later in 1996 after delays and budget overruns. The construction years were known as the “Dark Age of Taipei Traffic”. Taipei has seven lines and it’s now a lean mean metro-building machine that is building and extending more lines every year. This Wiki graphic shows the progress of the Taipei metro over 18 years.
[Evolution of the Taipei Metro, 1987-2015, by Abc480528 via Wikimedia Commons.]
Saigon has now entered its own dark age of traffic (motopocalypse?), so there no more time to waste.
Ho Chi Minh City Metro Concept Map
While studying the city and the proposed routes, I’ve also identified what roads and areas should also be included in the future metro system. I’ve created the Ho Chi Minh City Metro Concept Map, which expands on the current plans. The map is subtitled “If Saigon had a subway like Shanghai“.