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The remarkable economic growth in many of ASEAN Member States (AMSs) has been a success story of economic development in the world. In achieving this growth, AMSs have successfully been attracting foreign direct investment (FDI), upgrading industrial structures, and integrating themselves more into the world economy through the participation in the international and regional production and distribution networks.

All these developments have been supported by continuous improvement of the transport infrastructure network and services in the region.

To take advantage of the strategic location of ASEAN as the geographic centre of the emerging global centre of production and demand, it is necessary to strategise ASEAN as the transport hub in the region.

Indeed, an efficient, secure and integrated transport network in ASEAN is still vital for realising the full potential of the regional economic integration as well as further enhancing the attractiveness of the region as a single production, tourism and investment destination.

An integrated transport network is also vital for narrowing development gaps in the region.  A transport network is only as strong as the weakest link, and the weakest links can be found around the national borders.

This task has been set as the ultimate objective for the cooperation and integration of the ASEAN transport sector in the 1992 Framework Agreement on Enhancing ASEAN Economic Cooperation, which is reaffirmed in the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) Blueprint and the Roadmap for the ASEAN Community adopted by the ASEAN Leaders in 2009.

To achieve this objective, cooperation and integration of the ASEAN transport sector has been guided by a series of consecutive plans of actions, i.e. the ASEAN Plan of Actions in Transport and Communications 1994-1996, the Transport Action Agenda and Successor Plans of Actions 1996-1998 and 1999-2004 and the ASEAN Transport Action Plan (ATAP) 2005-2010 that covers land, air, and maritime transport, and transport facilitation.

As the ATAP expire in 2010, the ASEAN Strategic Transport Plan (ASTP) 2011-2015, also referred to as Brunei Action Plan (BAP) 2011-2015, adopted as its successor plan to provide the main reference guiding ASEAN transport cooperation and integration in the next five years.

Based on a comprehensive assessment of the current transport situation in ASEAN and of the achievements in the implementation of the ATAP and other related plans, the ASTP identifies strategic actions to be implemented in the period 2011-2015 to support the realisation of AEC by 2015 as well as the new priority of enhancing regional connectivity identified in the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity (MPAC).

The ASTP is also formulated to reflect other ongoing developments in the world such as changing economic landscape, mainly due to emergence of new economic powers such as China and India, and growing global concerns over environment, climate change, safety and security.

It also seeks to identify long-term vision of ASEAN transport cooperation beyond 2015.

The Singapore-Kunming Rail Link (SKRL) has been a priority agenda in the ASEAN transport cooperation, and the political motivation to complete the SKRL is significantly high.

The SKRL is expected to provide an alternative mode of land transportation, which is more environment-friendly than road transportation.

The SKRL has two lines, the Eastern Line through Thailand, Cambodia and Viet Nam, with a spur line between Lao PDR and Viet Nam, and the Western Line through Thailand and Myanmar.

The main tasks to be undertaken to achieve this goal are to complete the missing link sections, especially those linking between Cambodia with Viet Nam, Cambodia with Thailand and Myanmar with Thailand, and to upgrade some sections to support the smooth operation of the whole SKRL.

Sustaining and supporting the rapid economic and social development in ASEAN presents a range of complex challenges for the land transport system.

Providing the capacity to accommodate vastly increasing vehicles especially 2-3 wheelers, freight volumes and meet the personal mobility needs of burgeoning urban populations is in itself a daunting task.

Considering that currently railways and inland waterway have a very limited role in ASEAN, it is likely that the road sector will continue its dominance in the forthcoming years.

With such trend, it is vital to accelerate the implementation of the AHN Project, especially to complete the missing sections and improve the quality of road infrastructure in the AMSs as envisaged in the MOU on the ASEAN Highway Network (AHN) Project.

Considering the importance of TTR in enhancing the trade and economic growth in the AMSs, the highest priority is given to upgrade existing “below Class III” sections of the TTR, total road length of which is 1,999.55 km in Indonesia, Lao PDR, and Myanmar, by 2012.

The second priority is given to the construction of the missing links in Myanmar (201km), and upgrading of other “below Class III” sections in Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Viet Nam, with a total length of 4,536.7 km.

The up gradation of other existing “Class II or III” roads with high traffic volume to “Class I” could also be implemented, subject to the availability of financial and other resources in the respective country.

The expansion of road and rail connections within ASEAN would certainly help facilitate land travel between the AMSs (by private vehicles, tour buses and coaches) which could likely to result in the development of new tour packages comprising of different Member States tourism products.

With the purpose to integrate transport in an efficient way, specially land and maritime transport, and to reduce the risk of disruption (man-made or natural hazards) from the Strait of Malacca, which is currently the busiest international waterway, the idea of developing “Land Bridges” connecting the ports (sea and dry ports) at the eastern and western coasts of ASEAN mainland via land transport (road/highways or rail) should be considered. With such development, it is likely that transportation will be more economical, time saving and safer and will provide access to Indian Ocean.

This will also be able to set up a perfect example of “Multi-Modal Transportation” as has been propagated by the ASEAN Leaders.

(this article published in 1BINA.my)