By THE NATION
He made the remark on his weekly television programme yesterday.
He said progress had been made in the development of the nation’s rail system. Linkages will be created between Thailand and other countries in the region, making the Kingdom a true regional hub.
There will be two projects establishing dual-track, 1-metre-gauge rail lines. The first involves six urgent sub-projects that will span a total of 903 kilometres and are slated for implementation this year. They include three routes where environmental impact assessments (EIAs) have already been completed and where associated land-expropriation bills have been approved.
The first route is the 106km stretch connecting Chachoengsao, Klong 19 and Kaeng Khoi district, Saraburi. The second route is the 185km Chira Road-Khon Kaen stretch. The third is the 167km stretch from Prachuap Khiri Khan to Chumphon.
EIAs are taking place for three other routes, namely the 48km stretch from Lop Buri to Pak Nam Pho in Nakhon Sawan, the 132km stretch from Map Kabao to Chira Road train station, and the 165km stretch from Nakhon Pathom to Hua Hin.
The second project involves the next phase of the rail-development project, where studies and designs for eight more routes will be undertaken this year. The routes include Hua Hin-Prachuap Khiri Khan, Pak Nam Pho-Den Chai, Chira Road-Ubon Ratchathani, Khon Kaen-Nong Khai, Chumphon-Surat Thani, Hat Yai-Padang Besa, and Denchai-Chiang Mai.
Meanwhile, development of the 1.435-metre-gauge rail lines will involve state-to-state collaboration. The Thai government will cooperate with the governments of countries that have expressed interest, such as China and Japan. Negotiations are taking place about the details of investment models, as well as financing for and administration of each project.
“As for high-speed rail lines, there have been proposals from the Thai private sector,” Prayut said.
“We want to bring about modernisation, spur urban development and employment, and generate income for all areas that the rail lines pass through. I have tasked agencies with finding information and conclusions on how this can be achieved, for both short routes and those serving many commuters, namely the Bangkok-Pattaya-Rayong-U-tapao route and the Bangkok-Hua Hin route.
“Cost-effectiveness has to be considered. It is probable that either the public-private-partnership model or the infra-fund model of investment will be utilised. The government will work to yield tangible progress this year.
“Many have expressed concern over whether the high-speed trains will be too expensive. I have studied Japan as an example.
“Initially, the cost would be high and people may not fully utilise the service. Japan also utilised income from commercial activities along concession areas on both train routes. Shopping centres and markets could be set up in said areas. This would involve joint investment between the state and private sectors. Letting only one of the parties handle this activity may not benefit the country as much, and could also result in mistrust from society and the public.”
Aside from shopping centres, he said, joint investment might take the form of residential buildings for low-income earners or the construction of markets and other venues to boost local income. This would allow relieve crowding in urban communities, while also providing space for the public to engage in trade.
High-speed trains will obviously incur high cost, the prime minister said. However, the private sector can help shoulder this cost. Several companies, business groups and prominent business figures have expressed interest and readiness to collaborate with the government, he said, adding that conditions will have to be looked at in more detail.