New conflict triggered over Orange Line between MRTA and BTS
The long-delayed bidding for the 142-billion-baht Orange Line mass-transit project has hit yet another snag, with a new dispute being sparked between Bangkok Mass Transit System (BTS) and the Mass Rapid Transit Authority (MRTA).
Both sides have been involved in a long court battle after BTS filed three separate lawsuits against MRTA over the state agency’s change in bidding terms and subsequent cancellation of the bidding.
In the most recent round of conflict, BTS submitted a written request for the replacement of MRTA deputy governor Kittikorn Tanpao, who chairs the bidding selection committee.
BTS argues that it fears possible unfair treatment as it is already suing Kittikorn in a case filed with the Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases, a high-ranking source at the Transport Ministry said.
This case is related to MRTA’s alleged unlawful revision of bidding terms and cancellation of the bidding. However, MRTA has refused to remove Kittikorn from the committee, arguing that his appointment is lawful and that the new round of bidding would be conducted in the presence of neutral observers under the Integrity Pact, the source said.
The new terms of reference should be completed later this month, with bidding likely to kick off by August.
In the new round, the MRTA will still combine the construction of the Orange Line’s western section with the right to operate and manage the entire line for 30 years, the source said.
A BTS executive said the company is prepared to participate in the new round of bidding but warned that if the MRTA and the selection panel insist on ditching the original terms, they will have to explain themselves to society.
The executive, who asked not to be named, hopes Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and the Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand will step in to ensure transparency.
“If the bidding had been held normally [under original terms], the project’s winner would have been announced long ago,” the source said.
The 35.9-kilometre-long Orange Line runs from Bang Khunnon in the west of the city to Min Buri in the east.
Construction of the eastern section from Min Buri to the Thailand Cultural Centre was about 93 per cent complete as of March-end. However, no services will be available until a contractor is chosen to build the western section and operate the entire project.
The legal dispute began in 2020 after the MRTA changed bidding terms, even though several envelopes with the original terms had been sold to potential bidders, including BTS.
BTS, which runs the two Skytrain lines and is building two monorail projects in the capital, has filed three lawsuits against the MRTA and the bidding selection committee. Two of the cases were rejected by the Supreme Administrative Court on grounds that the selection process falls under MRTA's jurisdiction.