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Thailand

High speed trains: to be or not to be

Author: Luc Citrinot / Date: Mon, 06/23/2014 - 06:03
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Thailand’s high speed trains’ project launched by the previous government was supposed to take the Kingdom’s antiquated rail system into the 21st century. However, it seems that the military junta is now looking back at the project and will only take a decision after a new feasibility study… 

BANGKOK - High speed trains or at least fast trains are a necessity for Thailand. The Kingdom’s rail system is probably one of the worst in Asia today as very little investments were done over the last four decades. If Thailand used to have one of the most efficient train networks in Asia a century ago, it is only a distant memory today. Trains are awfully slow -ten hours to cover the distance between Bangkok and Chiang Mai (600 km) or over three hours between Bangkok and Hua Hin (180 km) and rarely punctual. Incidents are frequent due to deteriorated tracks.
 
The idea mulled out by the former government of Yingluck Shinawatra to spend THB 800 billion (US$ 25 billion) to build up four high speed rail lines was certainly ambitious. The four high speed train lines are due to go from Bangkok to Phitsanulok –continuing further to Chiang Mai; from Bangkok to Hua Hin and Pattaya/Rayong; from Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima, one of the country’s largest cities located 200 km away from the capital.
 
Opposition has been high against the rail development despite the fact that it would have helped creating a new efficient and environment-friendly transport alternative to either airlines or the bus. The THB 800-billion train scheme was part of THB 2 trillion (US$ 62 billion) dedicated to boost infrastructure. The military government has then decided to look again at the project’s feasibility, despite the fact that studies have already been conducted. But the fate of the high speed train system seems to be already sealed: Transport Permanent Secretary Somchai Sirtwattanachoke told media that the plan was not cancelled but only treated as “non-urgent”. The project has been dropped from the main infrastructure strategy but could become a stand-alone project.
 
If a high speed train link is probably not urgent for Pattaya and Hua Hin –which could be served by faster trains thanks to the modernization of the rail lines –including double-tracks, however the line to Phitsanulok and the North as well as Nakhon Ratchasima should have been considered as priority due to heavy traffic with the capital.
 
Interestingly, while the military government is uncertain about the train, the transport strategy commitee approved an additional trillion Baht (US$ 31 billion) to improve transportation. The additional funds will serve the construction of a new seaport, the expansion of Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang airports in Bangkok – already approved in the past but…- and a new air traffic control centre.
 

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