Thailand’s rail plans speed up

BANGKOK, 28 August 2017: Thailand’s government  approved a draft contract for the  construction and design of the first phase of the country’s high-speed railway project with China, last week.

The first stage of the  high-speed railway will link Bangkok and the northeast province of Nakhon Ratchasima and is scheduled to be operational by 2021.

The Thai cabinet and the National Legislative Assembly, have approved the first phase of the new railway and once all phases are completed, it will offer a fast train link from Yunnan province in China to the eastern seaboard on the Gulf of Thailand and eventually to Malaysia and Singapore.

The project is described as a legacy project that fits into the China’s Silk Road rail system.

Thailand stands to benefit from a comprehensive modern rail network that will help meet the demands of domestic and international cross-border traffic. From a domestic perspective, the project is set to substantially benefit Thailand in the long run.

A poor railway network in Thailand have proved insufficient in supporting economic growth in the country’s remote and less developed areas.

The Chinese Embassy in Bangkok announced that construction could start as soon as this October, once China and Thailand sign two contracts, next month, that cover design and supervision expenses.

The two contracts will be signed during Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s visit to China, 4 to 5 September.

China will provide expertise and supervision, while Thailand will provide equipment and materials. At the request of Thailand, China will also use a number of Thai engineers and architects to help transfer expertise in maintaining, operating and managing high-speed railways.

The first phase will link Bangkok, with the northeastern city of Nakhom Ratchasima, which is set to start operation in four years time. The construction of the 252 km stretch of the  high-speed rail project is estimated to cost THB 179 billion (USD5.2 billion) all of which is to be raised by the Thai government.

The line will continue from Nakhon Ratchasima to Nong Khai on the Thai-Laos border to connect with the China-Laos railway now under construction.

The third phase of the project will connect China’s southern city of Kunming with Bangkok via Vientiane, the capital of Laos. It will have 867 km dual-track with 1.435 metre standard gauge and trains will operate at speeds of up to 180 kph.

The railway is part of China’s ‘Belt and Road’ initiative. The Belt and Road Initiative refers to the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, aiming at building a trade and infrastructure network connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along the ancient trade routes of the Silk Road.

The line will link the Thai-Laos border to Bangkok as well as Thailand’s main deep-sea port on Thailand’s eastern seaboard.

By connecting Thailand’s poor northeast from Nong Khai province to the capital city Bangkok and eastern Rayong province on the Gulf of Thailand, the railway will play a pivotal role in boosting trade, industry and tourism, leading to greater investment and development opportunities thereby reducing the wealth gap that has fueled political turmoil in Thailand.

But more than that it is envisaged that the Pan-Asian railway network will strengthen Thailand’s position to become the hub for regional rail connectivity as well as an important centre of ASEAN cross border traffic not only people but also cargo.

Add to this the enormous benefits of the increase trade and tourism with China and Laos and in one master stroke Thailand has positioned itself to not only be a key player in ASEAN but the engine that drives trade across the members borders. With Thailand’s planned East-West rail link and the development of the Eastern Economic Corridor, all points on the Pan-Asia railway network compass, centre on Thailand.

Thailand’s military government has made rail development and construction its top transport priority.

The government wants to double the tracks and modernise the country’s 120-year-old railway networks by increasing the existing 4,000 km of rail infrastructure to 10,000 km over the next decade.

In the past, Thailand’s aging railways have been used predominantly for passengers, but the planned expansion will accommodate greater use of railway for cargo. The Transport Ministry has estimated that by 2022, five per cent of cargo nationwide will move by rail. From Thailand’s perspective it will facilitate increased export of Thailand’s farm produce, notably rice and rubber, to China.

China is Thailand’s largest export and trade partner. With the new railway making transport more convenient, bilateral trade as well as Chinese investment in Thailand is expected to surge.

(Source: Andrew Wood