By The Nation
The first phase of the Thailand-China high-speed train project would cost Bt179.41 billion, but the construction work would cover only 3.5 kilometres, which critics said was useless and slammed the project as unfeasible.
Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith yesterday led the Thai delegation to the 14th meeting in Bangkok of the Thai-Chinese steering committee for cooperation on development of the high-speed train project in Bangkok.
According to the Cabinet resolution, the 250km Bangkok-Nakhon Ratchasima route would be developed in the first phase and extended across the Northeast region later.
Arkhom said after the meeting that the committee had agreed on the drafts for three engineering procurement and construction contracts for the project’s first phase of 3.5km from Nakhon Ratchasima’s Klang Dong to Pang Asok Station.
The first bids for the project will open in November and the
construction of the region’s shortest rail portion would begin by December.
“Both countries want to begin this project by the end of the year and there is limited time,” said Wang Xiaotao, vice chairman of China’s National Development and Reform Commission, who was present at yesterday’s talks.
The railway project will feature dual 1.435-metre gauge tracks and span 873 kilometres in total.
Beijing has ambitious plans to connect by rail the southwestern Chinese city of Kunming to Thailand, through Laos, and Thailand wants to modernise its ageing rail network.
Thailand has moved closer to China and away from its traditional ally the United States, following a 2014 coup by the Thai military, which has seen an increase in diplomatic visits and joint Thai-China military exercises.
China also wanted the rail project in Thailand to be a showcase for regional connectivity.
Under the deal, Thailand will retain ownership rights for the entire project, helping it accelerate the commencement of construction by the end of this year.
The Chinese side will be responsible to survey the project’s proprietary suitability and design as well as joins hand with the Thai side
for operations, involving electric system, rolling stock and track installation.
Samart Ratchapolsitte, a former Democrat Party MP, said the project was unlikely to begin construction as scheduled. If the government went ahead with the construction of the project, it should cover the entire route (873km) as planned originally, connecting the country with China’s southern areas via Laos, he said.
Moreover, the government should plan for land development surrounding areas around the stations parallel with the construction so that this could bring in utmost benefits to the country’s economy, said Samart, a keen supporter of mass transportation.
Meanwhile, some observers in the railway industry were sceptical about the area chosen for construction of the first phase, as it was far from any dense communities.
The meeting yesterday saw some disagreements over details of the rail project, such as the currency of payment, which threatened future negotiations.
“We will have to work through any disagreements or misunderstandings,” Arkhom told Reuters.