Govt Approves 179 Billion Baht for Controversial High-Speed Railway Project

Photo: Prachachat

BANGKOK — Starting from 2021, traveling from Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima province – the gateway town to northeastern region – will take only one hour and 17 minutes, the interim cabinet said Tuesday.

Reducing travel times threefold compared to a car journey, the trip will become possible due to the controversial high-speed train project, approved yesterday by the military government and to be built under a 179 billion baht budget.

The project was introduced as a joint-venture between Thailand and China after the military took power in 2014 and tried to strengthen its relationship with Beijing. The government later changed its mind, deciding to fund the entire project on its own, displeased with the deal China offered. But having skipped the bidding process, the Chinese government remains the only contractor to date.

“China said that if we co-invest then they will send company to manage their profit along the railway in Thailand,” said Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha Tuesday. “So we said we’d better do it by ourselves.”

Read: Junta Pilloried for Handling of Rail Project at Forum

The proposal will be submitted to the junta-appointed lawmakers for endorsement. The date for the endorsement has not been disclosed.

Last month, the junta chief used his extralegal authority to exempt the application of 10 relevant laws – including a junta order – to ensure China took charge of the construction, sparing the project from proper bidding and cost estimation procedures and allowing Chinese architects and engineers to work without obtaining licenses.

Critics expressed their concerns over transparency and the project’s success in the long run.

The 253-kilometer route from Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima, known widely as Korat, is expected to be completed in four years. It will consists of six stations; Bang Sue, Don Muang, Ayutthaya, Saraburi, Pak Chong and Korat.

The base fare will be 80 baht with an extra charge of 1.8 baht per kilometer. Hence traveling from Bangkok to Saraburi province will cost 278 baht, while the the fare for the entire route from Bangkok to Korat will cost 535 baht.

“During the primary period, there will be six trains running at 250-kilometer per hour. Each train will accommodate 600 passengers,” said the Vice Minister to the Prime Minister’s Office, Kobsak Pootrakool.

When the train is completed in 2021, it will run every 90 minutes, carrying 5,300 passengers in its 11 daily trips. The number of trains and their frequency is expected to increase by 2051 when it is forecasted to transport at least 26,800 passengers per day.

Kobsak said the train operation as well as the development of the land along the railway will be managed by the State Railway of Thailand, not the Chinese government.

Besides connecting Thailand’s regions together, the interim cabinet yesterday also said the high-speed railway will help Thailand become the transport center of the Mekong Region and link the country to China’s new “Silk Road.”

Kobsak said Bangkok-Korat is the first period of a total of three planned routes. The second route will be built from Korat to Nong Khai – the border town to Laos. Thailand will eventually link to China via the 440-kilometer railways in Laos.

The third route will connect Kaeng Khoi district in Saraburi province to Map Ta Phut subdistrict in Rayong province, where the planned Eastern Economic Corridor is nestled.

Related stories:

Junta Pilloried for Handling of Rail Project at Forum

Did Thailand Get Railroaded by the Chinese? No Way, Govt Says

Junta Exempts Chinese from Thai Law to Build Railway

Junta to Sidestep 5 Laws to Move Stalled Railway Project

Prayuth Asked to Use Absolute Power to Let Chinese Build Railway

Work on 1st Small Stretch of High-Speed Rail May Soon Begin

Construction of Thai-China Railway to Begin ‘Before Year’s End’

Post-Coup Thailand Settles For Medium-Speed Train