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Government urged to set up new railway regulatory body

Apr 17. 2016
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THE government should consider reforming the railway regulatory system while planning for new projects, or such investment may not render returns to the nation effectively, an academic says.

Sumeth Ongkittikul, transport and logistics policy research director at Thailand Development Research Institute, said recently the country urgently needs a proper regulatory body for the railway system.

Given the large proportion of railways in the Bt1.8-trillion mega-project investment plan, at 63 per cent, more trains will be operational within six years.

“It is time that Thailand has a railway regulatory body, to be in charge of licensing and monitoring service quality,” he said.

But private companies should be allowed to take part in services.

“This would actively change the environment,” he said.

Sumeth noted that as things stand, the operators of the railway –the State Railway of Thailand (SRT), BTS and MRT – also exercised licensing power. While other public-transport drivers need licences particular to their functions, train drivers do not need to seek licences from any agency. Without a central body, service quality checks are neglected. His comments follow hiccups in |train services over the past few months.

On March 21, Airport Rail Link stopped for hours, forcing passengers in some carriages to get out and walk to the nearest station. On his Facebook page, Assistant Professor Pramual Suteecharuwat said the Airport Rail Link was in crisis and safety was not guaranteed.

In February, BTS suffered a switching glitch. No punitive actions were launched against the operator of Bangkok’s Skytrain.

But Sumeth said there could be more such incidents when more train lines are in operation.

“Roads and railroads serve different uses. With roads, the government can just have them built and users can freely use them. But railroads need proper operation, and this requires proper oversight,” the academic said.

According to a government transport body chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, at least 10 mass-transit projects planned for Bangkok will be put to tender between this year and 2019. About five are part of the Bt1.8-trillion mega-project programme, which includes high-speed rail.

Delayed investment

Sumeth also commented on the government’s plan to invest in the first part of the high-speed-rail project, which will cover 250 of the total 873 kilometres of the plan. The route is eventually to connect with China via Laos, but for now the terminus will be Nakhon Ratchasima.

“It’s very certain that the construction will be delayed until next year,” he said.

He said it would take at least five months to complete design evaluation and screening of project bidders.

Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith has said the construction may start four to five months after the previous schedule of May.

Another concern is that it remains unclear who would call for bids – SRT or the Transport Ministry.

The Democrat Party late last month submitted a petition to the government, urging the establishment of a joint venture to carry out the project, not the SRT.

It also cited the high development cost now that the route has been shortened. Returns on investment for the project would depend mainly on the expected increase in rail passengers from China.

It also urged the government to speed up development of other routes to enhance the country’s logistics competitiveness, as the Bangkok-Nong Khai route is mainly to serve passengers, not cargo.

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