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Figure 13. Transportation System, 1987

As described by the Vietnamese government, the economy in the 1980s suffered from the "backwardness" of the transport system. The system's inadequate development constituted a major impediment to industrial development, created bottlenecks in the circulation of goods and supplies, and constrained domestic trade. The importance of transportation development was emphasized at the Sixth National Party Congress in December 1986, and confirmed at the Central Committee's Second Plenum in April 1987. The plenum urged state cooperatives, private enterprises, and individuals to invest in expanding the transportation sector and to engage in transportation services that would benefit business (see fig. 13).

Damage to the transportation structure was extensive during the latter half of the Second Indochina War, particularly in the North, and the 1979 Chinese invasion severely interdicted rail transport near the Chinese border, but Vietnamese transportation statistics also indicated a lack of development from 1975 through 1980. In 1980 total cargo transported amounted to 42.3 million tons, an increase of only 4.2 percent over the 40.6 million tons transported in 1970. Cargo carried by rail totaled only 3.5 million tons in 1980, compared with 4.5 million tons in 1965. In terms of volume hauled over distance traveled, 758 million ton per kilometer were transported by rail in 1980, a figure not significantly greater than that measured in 1965 (749 million tons per kilometer). A 30-percent increase in the average rail distance traveled per shipment in 1980 (from 166 kilometers to 216 kilometers) was attributed to expanded shipments from the South to the North.

In 1987 Vietnamese road and railroad construction figures for the period of the Second Five-Year Plan were contradictory. Construction figures indicated that 1,500 kilometers of new roads were built and 137 kilometers of new railroad track were laid during this time, but the plan's fulfillment report cited 3,800 kilometers of road constructed and 2,000 kilometers of main and auxiliary track laid for the North-South railroad. Vietnamese reports to Comecon showed that total track increased by 837 kilometers to reach a total of 2,900 kilometers in 1980. Repair of war damage to the rail system and construction of new sidings, however, took up much of the effort that might otherwise have been directed toward expanding the rail system.

The profitability and efficiency of the railroad transportation system had declined even before the system was damaged by the Chinese invasion in 1979. According to a Vietnamese transportation economist, profit per dong of fixedcapital investment decreased from D0.17 in 1964 to D0.04 in 1978. The same source calculated that the productivity per railcar declined from 1,999 tons per kilometer per day in 1960 to 784 tons per kilometer per day in 1978. Comparable estimates for road transportation were not available; however, the aging truck stock and the severe parts shortages experienced in the late 1970s, which left trucks inoperable or cannibalized, suggested that road transportation was at least as problematic as rail transportation.

In 1985 Vietnam had approximately 85,000 kilometers of roads and 4,250 kilometers of railroad. According to Vietnamese officials, 238 kilometers of railroad and nearly 3,500 kilometers of road had been built in the ten years since reunification. The principal road and rail routes linked Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City (1,730 kilometers), Hanoi to Haiphong (102 kilometers), Hanoi to Muc Quan (176 kilometers), Hanoi to Thanh Hoa (160 kilometers), and Hanoi to Lao Cai (295 kilometers). Railroads were in working order but needed substantial repair and restoration. Track running from Nha Trang, Phu Khanh Province, to Qui Nhon, Nghia Binh Province was completed between 1983 and 1984 by a French development-aid team.

Dozens of kilometers of bridges were constructed between 1975 and 1985. With Soviet assistance, Vietnam rebuilt the Thang Long bridge over the Red River, north of Hanoi. The country's longest bridge, extending 1,688 meters, it had been destroyed during the Second Indochina War. Other bridges were built on the national highway in central Vietnam and in the Mekong River Delta. The road system in the 1980s included 9,400 kilometers with a bituminous surface, 48,700 kilometers with a gravel or improved earth surface, and 26,900 kilometers with an unimproved earth roadbed.

Haiphong, Ho Chi Minh City, and Da Nang were the largest of nine major and twenty-three minor ports. Port capacity in the late 1970s and early 1980s increased greatly. Haiphong's wharves reportedly grew to 1,700 meters and were served by 3,600 meters of railroad track and 2,000 meters of crane track. Covered and open storage were increased to 90,000 square meters. Despite efforts to enlarge and equip the ports, however, they remained the weakest link in Vietnam's transportation system.

In early 1985, the Vietnamese portion of a 500-kilometer oil pipeline linking the seaport of Vinh in Nghe Tinh Province to Vientiane, Laos, was completed with Soviet assistance. The project was expected to provide Laos with an annual supply of 300,000 tons of petroleum and gas, some of which was to be used by Vietnamese army units stationed there.

The Vietnamese merchant fleet was upgraded with Soviet assistance. The Soviets installed and ran a sophisticated coastal freighter and barge system between Haiphong and Soviet Pacific Ocean ports. The system apparently was designed to transport military hardware in a secure manner. Vietnam also cooperated with Thailand and Laos in improving the navigability of the Mekong River under the auspices of the UN Mekong Committee. Navigable inland waterways totaled about 17,702 kilometers, of which more than 5,149 kilometers were navigable at all times by vessels of up to 1.8 meters in draft. According to Vietnamese statistics for the years 1984 and 1985, marine transport had increased by 2.2 times the level in 1976.

Civil aviation in the 1980s was controlled by the military and based primarily at two international airports, Noi Bai in Hanoi and Tan Son Nhut in Ho Chi Minh City. Domestically, Hanoi was linked by regular service to Phu Bai, Nha Trang, Da Nang, Pleiku, Da Lat, Buon Me Thuot, and Ho Chi Minh City. Ho Chi Minh City also was connected by regularly scheduled flights to Rach Gia, Phu Quoc, and Con Son Island. The aircraft used were Sovietmade .

In March 1983, commercial air service between Hanoi and Moscow was opened by Aeroflot. Air Vietnam, in the late 1980s, connected Hanoi with Vientiane, Phnom Penh and Bangkok, and Air France provided regular flights to Ho Chi Minh City from Bangkok. The number of airfields totaled 217, of which 128 were usable and 46 had permanently surfaced runways. Twelve had runways from 2,440 to 3,659 meters in length, and 28 maintained runways of 1,220 to 2,439 meters.

Data as of December 1987

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