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Green light for Southeast Asia's old railways

Renovating existing tracks is quicker and cheaper than building high-speed lines

A decommissioned train at Naypyitaw Station. (Peter Janssen)

YANGON -- The train from Yangon to Mandalay takes a grueling 15 hours -- a slow, hot, dusty ride through flat Myanmar countryside that costs $1 for an Upper Class seat.

Air-conditioned buses plying the same route are quicker and more comfortable, but the train is popular because it is cheaper, safer and more fun; passengers are mobbed at every station by vendors hawking ice-cold bottles of water, fruit, confectionery and spicy curry dishes. And with so much time on their hands travelers inevitably end up chatting with their neighbors.

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