The first railway opened in Myanmar in 1877, between the Second and Third Anglo-Burmese Wars. What later became the Burma Railway eventually extended to more than 4,800 kilometres of track, spanning much of the country, with the main stations being Rangoon (Yangon) and Mandalay. A lot of track was destroyed during the Second World War, however, and it wasn’t until the early 1960s that the rail network was largely back to its original size.
Over 860 stations operate on what’s now known as the Myanmar Railways network, but significant underinvestment has taken its toll. Many of the engines and rolling stock are second-hand, sourced from Japan and China. And a large number of stations are largely unchanged from their pre-1945 design, although a sense of local pride means that many are surprisingly well taken care of. There are still no connections with the railway networks of neighbouring countries, such as China, Thailand or India.
There are advanced plans for the redevelopment of Yangon’s circular railway line, which skirts the city and is popular with commuters and tourists alike. The work is to be undertaken under two tenders: one for the east and one for the west. There’s also a plan to convert Yangon’s characterful Central station into a multibillion-dollar, multifunctional property project.
Many of the stations on the Yangon line transform into impromptu markets, particularly during peak periods, with vendors selling a diverse range of food and refreshments to commuters and other passengers. Some vendors even hop on and off the trains, leap-frogging from one station to another.