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Thailand to refocus on more high-speed train routes
Publication Date : 27-09-2012
The Thai Transport Ministry yesterday said it was against the idea of overhauling the existing rail track network to standard gauge nationwide, pointing out that it would cost some 500 billion baht (US$16 billion) and take at least 40 years to complete such a switch-over.
It will, however, be possible to focus on construction of a further four high-speed train routes: Bangkok-Chiang Mai, Bangkok-Nong Khai, Bangkok-Rayong and Bangkok-Hua Hin.
The government's policy is to establish a high-speed train link with China and other Asean member states, a move that would strengthen the country's rail transportation and competitiveness.
Speaking at the "The Rail System: Leading to the AEC" seminar, Deputy Transport Minister Chatchart Sithipan said the government would have to spend a huge sum to undertake a nationwide switch-over to standard gauge, which would also take decades to complete.
It could not change the entire rail system, he said, adding that such massive spending would also increase public debt and negatively affect low-cost airlines.
"Thailand's high-speed rail lines will be operated within the next five years, running to southern China. The route will also carry more Chinese tourists to Thailand," he said.
Chatchai said the government would focus on a dual-track system by setting up high-speed rail lines parallel to existing track.
High-speed trains require a standard gauge that is 1.435 metres wide, while the existing rail track in Thailand uses a middle-range gauge with a width of 1 metre. The government will maintain the middle gauge for heavy-load weight transportation, he said.
Viroj Rujopakarn, lecturer at the Faculty of Engineering of Kasetsart University, said that despite the high mutual benefit of an extended high-speed rail system, the government should also take into account the effect of such a programme on the level of public debt, as it would need to borrow 100 billion baht for construction.
In addition, the government should consider other impacts from the project, such as the rapid expansion of cities along the high-speed rail routes, he said.
Pramuan Sutheejaruwattana, deputy director of the Transportation Institute of Chulalongkorn University, said the government should prepare a supply chain to support the operation of high-speed trains by ensuring proper maintenance, as 100 per cent of the parts would need to be imported.
"The BTS [Skytrain] and MRT [underground] have been operated here for more than 10 years, but there has been no technology transfer. We don't have the technicians and parts [for an extended high-speed train system], so we would have to prepare both manpower and the related industry," Pramuan said.