By SASITHORN ONGDEE
GROUNDBREAKING for the Sino-Thai medium-speed railway project is still set for May as planned, according to Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith.
Meanwhile, people in Khon Kaen called on the government at a public hearing yesterday to ensure they participate in the project so as to share in its benefits.
It was the third public hearing on the project. The first two were in Bangkok and Udon Thani.
China and Thailand are still working out the details of their joint 873-kilometre railway project, but its estimated cost has swelled to Bt500 billion from Bt400 billion as originally expected.
The railway will be a dual-track project with a 1.435-metre gauge carrying trains at speeds of up to 180km/h on the Bangkok-Kaeng Khoi-Nakhon Ratchasima-Nong Khai and Kaeng Khoi-Map Ta Phut routes.
Arkhom said the 10th round of meetings of the steering committees of the two nations in Beijing at the end of this month would focus on finalising the project design details. But he declined to disclose the exact date and time of the meeting.
He said the meeting was expected to discuss again the investment proportions of both sides, as Thailand has recently proposed a 60:40 Thai-China joint venture.
Meanwhile, China has proposed downgrading the Nakhon Ratchasima-Nong Khai route from dual-track to single-track and putting off the construction of the Kaeng Khoi-Map Ta Phut route.
“However, both countries have agreed on setting up a joint venture first, moving it up from the previous plan,” Arkhom said.
He said the single track was not a problem because the railway in Laos would also be a single track that would connect with the one in Thailand.
Arkhom said China had asked for more benefits like it did with Laos, such as owner rights on land surrounding the stations and other non-rail operational revenue.
At the Khon Kaen public hearing, the business sector and local people wanted the government set out a clear policy on having them participate in the railway project.
Samart Angwararong, former chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries Khon Kaen Chapter, said that overall the country would benefit from the project, but how much Khon Kaen people could get out of it was still in doubt.
He said it was believed that most of the construction work would come from the Central region, while most of the labour was expected to be foreign. Some commercial operations might be by large companies from Bangkok, not local ones.
Local people in Khon Kaen who will be affected by the project called for fair compensation in exchange for having to leave their homes.