The Central Highlands Region is comprised of five provinces in the mountainous area of south-central Vietnam.
[Image via Wikipedia.]
There are no railways in this region (apart from a short tourist line in Da Lat), but there are plans for railways in the future.
Proposed Routes In The Central Highlands Region
The main railway proposal is a line that would connect four of the five provinces, and provide an alternative route from Ho Chi Minh City to Da Nang. There have been other lines proposed over the years with varying degrees of seriousness.
I have made this map to show what the Central Highlands would look like if all of the proposed railways were built.
[View full size map of Central Highlands Railways.]
This map is drawn in subway style, showing what a future travel map might look like to promote tourism in the Central Highlands. With very few details of what route each line would take, there is no point in trying to plot a map with geographically accurate routes.
Here are the details of each line that has been proposed.
Central Highlands Railway
The Central Highlands Railway is a proposed 550km railway that will connect Ho Chi Minh City to Da Nang via the Central Highlands region.
The line begins in Ho Chi Minh City via the proposed Di An-Loc Ninh Railway, which goes to the Cambodia border. There is a junction at Chon Thanh on the Di An-Loc Ninh Railway, marking the start of the Central Highlands line.
The line then passes through Dong Xoai in Binh Phuoc, then to the Central Highlands capitals of Gia Nghia (Dak Nong Province), Buon Ma Thuot (Dak Lak Province), Pleiku (Gia Lai Province), and Kon Tum (Kon Tum Province). The line continues through Quang Nam Province to Da Nang.
[Map from Viet Nam Railway Authority.]
Da Lat–Thap Cham Railway
Lam Dong Province is the only province in the Central Highlands that isn’t connected to the proposed Central Highlands Railway. It is also the only province in the Central Highlands that has ever had a railway. The Da Lat–Thap Cham railway operated from 1932 to 1968, and there are plans to restore the railway in the future.
A small section of the old railway runs as a tourist railway from Da Lat to Trai Mat. This is the only operating railway of any kind in the Central Highlands.
Gia Nghia-Da Lat Railway
The Gia Nghia-Da Lat railway was proposed in 2011, but there hasn’t been any news of it since. This 105km railway would link Lam Dong province to Dak Nong Province. If this was built it would connect Da Lat to the other capitals of the Central Highlands region, and also offer a second railway alternative from Da Lat to Ho Chi Minh City.
Gia Nghia – Tan Rai – Ke Ga Railway
The Gia Nghia – Tan Rai – Ke Ga railway is a proposed line to connect the Tan Rai bauxite mining area in Lam Dong province to a new port in Ke Ga, Binh Thuan province.
The line would also go to Gia Nghia in Dak Nong Province, where the railway would then run to the Binh Phuoc Alumina Mill and the bauxite area in Cambodia.
Vietnam’s Central Highlands are believed to hold the world’s third-largest bauxite deposits, and the mines have been a controversial issue.
This report from 2012 by the Australian mining company Atlantic shows a railway map from the mines to the port.
The map shows an alternative route via Dong Nai Province. This longer option hints at the challenge of building a railway suitable for freight from the coast to the Central Highlands.
Site clearance for a new deepwater port in Ke Ga was approved in 2011, but the project was cancelled in 2013.
A news report in 2018 mentions the bauxite railway going to Mui Ne in Binh Thuan province, though this is a tourist and fishing area with no seaport.
The railway would pass by Bao Loc, which is becoming a popular highlands destination alternative to Da Lat. There are lots of new homes planned for the future here.
If all of these railways were to be built, it would turn Gia Nghia into the major transport hub of the Central Highlands. Gia Nghia is the smallest capital city in the highlands, with a population of just over 60,000 people.
Buon Ma Thuot – Tuy Hoa Railway
The Buon Ma Thuot – Tuy Hoa Railway is another line that has been proposed to connect the Central Highlands to a coastal city. According to the Dak Lak provincial government, the railway route from Tuy Hoa to Buon Ma Thuot would be 160 kilometres in length, 85 kilometres of which is in Dak Lak province. Of the 8 stations along the route, 5 would be in Dak Lak.
This railway is included in the 2015 Decision No. 1468/QD-TTg (Approving the adjusted master plan on development of Vietnam’s railway transport through 2020, with a vision toward 2030).
According to this report, Buon Ma Thuot Station would be located in the west of the city (Cu E Bua commune). There would be three bypass stations (Ea Lam, Ea Til, Hoa Dong) and an intermediate station at Ea Kar.
Southern Economic Corridor Railway
The Southern Economic Corridor is a proposed transport route to connect Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. This is an alternative route of the East-West Economic Corridor that ends in Dong Ha on the North Central Coast Region. If this was built as a railway, it would connect Pleiku to Quy Nhon, and provide a new rail link from Vietnam to Cambodia.
[East-West Rail Link (via Bangkok Post).]
The preferred route of the Southern Economic Corridor is from Dawei to Vung Tau port (near Ho Chi Minh City). An alternative route was added later to include Siem Reap and Quy Nhon, which goes via the Central Highlands. There is no likelihood of this route becoming a railway, but I’ve added it here to envisage what a railway network with multiple economic corridors would look like.
Da Lat Monorail
In 2011, Dalat proposed building six monorail lines covering 89 kilometres. This was announced at the same time as the Da Lat-Gia Nghia railway. This is the only urban rail transit system (and airport railway) that has been proposed in the Central Highlands.
Adjusted master plan on development of railway transport of Vietnam to 2020 with a vision to 2030 – [19/04/21]
“+ To research, build railway route connecting with provinces in Central Highlands such as Dak Nong – Kon Tum – Dak Lak – Binh Phuoc with a length of 550 km, Tuy Hoa – Ban Me Thuot with a length of about 169 km, Dak Nong – Binh Thuan with a length of about 121 km;
+ To research and build railway routes: Di An – Loc Ninh connecting with railway of Cambodia.”
PM: railway system needs to be upgraded – [29/10/20]
“He suggested developing a railway system linking the Central Highlands and the central region and HCM City, and another between the southern metropolis and the southwestern region.”
Adjusted master plan for socio-economic development of Da Nang City to 2020 with a vision to 2030 – [30/06/20]
“…study the investment plan for the construction of the route Da Nang – Kon Tum railway belongs to the Central Highlands railway from Da Nang – Kon Tum – Dak Lak – Buon Ma Thuot – Chon Thanh to Ho Chi Minh City.”
Buon Ma Thuot city in Dak Lak to become central hub of Central Highlands – [25/12/19]
“The central government and Dak Lak province will prioritize investment in building a synchronous and modern infrastructure system for the city, connecting it with adjacent provinces, regions and other countries by road, railway and aviation. The pace of key projects will be accelerated, such as…the Buon Ma Thuot – Tuy Hoa railway.”
Vietnam to connect coffee belt with $5.1 billion infrastructure investment – [25/06/15]
“The ministry will work with local authorities to mobilize funds for the construction of railway routes to facilitate aluminum mining and production in the Central Highlands and help connect the region to seaports.”
Decisiun No. 936/QD-Tfg uf July 18, 2012, approving the master plan on socio-economic development of the Central Highlands to 2020 – [18/07/12]
“To study and select appropriate forms of investment in each period to develop railway services from Dak Nang to Binh Thuan provinces catering the needs of transport, industrial production and mining; the Cham Tower-Da Lat railway; the arterial route of the Central Highlands railway network (Da Nang-Ken Tum Buon Ma Thuot-Chon Thanh-Ho Chi Minh City) and Thy Hoa-Buon Ma Thuot railway;”
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