High-speed trains in low gear
BANGKOK, 6 August 2012: Thailand’s Development Research Institute has recommended a fast forward policy to upgrade the country’s rail technology including a revamp of the railway authority to capitalise on high-speed train links with neigbouring countries.
TDRI researcher, Dr Narong Pomlaktong told an industry seminar that Thailand should leverage high-speed rail links with neighbouring countries and build a logistics centre. However, it would require amendments to regulations to facilitate international train transport.
Also, Thailand should recognise that railways will be the main mode of transport in the future linked to urban developments in towns that are on the network.
Railways are considered a more sustainable and environmentally friendly mode of transport than either road or air. But it requires a high user rate to lower the per passenger carbon footprint to a level below that of other transport modes, which has not been achieved in Thailand for either for cargo or passenger traffic.
To move ahead, the State Railway of Thailand will need radical surgery to separate train operations and service management from building infrastructure and network development. Such moves would probably face strong union protests.
Despite media hype, none of the proposed rail routes from China have been approved. A route from China through Laos that was supposed to connect with Thailand’s tracks south from Nong Khai to Bangkok and on to Malaysia and Singapore is in limbo. Laos rejected a Chinese proposal that included providing a land concession for 10 km on each side of the rail track for the exclusive use of Chinese developers.
In Thailand, high-speed train connection to neighbouring countries are years away. The first high-speed train service, if all goes well, could be ready by 2018 on proposed lines to Hua Hin, Phitsanulok or Nakhon Ratchasima.
Office of Transport and Traffic Policy and Planning senior engineer, Dr Pichet Kunadhamraks, said that the budget for study and design was already approved and a plan should be ready to submit to the Cabinet next year. By late 2013 or early 2014, construction could begin if tender bids are completed in time.
Before the high-speed era becomes a reality, dual tracks and other line improvements could be completed to allow regular trains to reach speeds of up to 120 km per hour instead of the current 60 km per hour.
The SRT says it will buy 77 new locomotives, due to roll out during the next five years. Only 64% of the locomotives in its rolling stock are serviceable.
Last week, the Thai government said it would speed up work on dual tracks from Nakhon Ratchasima to Ubon Ratchathani, covering about 300 km. The line links Buriram, Surin and Si Sa ket. Work will cost Bt39 billion and could be completed in 2019 instead of 2025 if the SRT accelerates the schedule.
Last January, dual track between Chacheongsao and Laem Chabang on the eastern seaboard opened.
Other dual track projects are scheduled for: Chacheongsao-Kaenkoi, Saraburi; Lopburi-Pak Nampho, Nakhon Sawan; Kaenkoi, Saraburi-Nakhon Ratchasima; Nakhon Ratchasima-Khon Kaen; Nakhon Pathom- Hua Hin and Prachuap Khirikhan-Chumporn.
At present, Thailand’s rail network covers 47 provinces, totaling 4,043 km of rail track. However, 65% of the tracks were laid more than 34 years ago.