By Thanatpong Kongsai
The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) is planning to close down the Saphan Taksin Skytrain station in order to ease the bottleneck over its stretch across the Chao Phraya River.
“The BTSC has agreed to cooperate,” Bangkok Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra said yesterday.
He unveiled the plan at a time when the BMA decision to award a Bt190billion contract to BTSC, the current operator of the Skytrain system, via Krungthep Thanakom (KT) is under intense scrutiny. KT is the legal investment arm of the city administration.
BTSC has a 30year concession for the original network of the Skytrain system, which has a combined length of 23.5 kilometres and 23 stations, including Saphan Taksin. Only after its concession expires in 2029, will all properties related to this original system belong to BMA.
“BTSC has the right to not cooperate, but it is willing to help. This is a reason why we have been working closely with BTSC all along,” Sukhumbhand said.
The Bangkok governor and the BMA have recently faced severe criticism as to why it awarded such a big contract to BTSC without holding a public bidding. Under the 30year contract, the BTSC will provide the operations and maintenance services for two Skytrain extension routes for 30 years in addition to another 13 years from 2029 for the original network.
“We have to stick together because problems will sometimes arise and cooperation from the operator is needed for efficient solutions,” Sukhumbhand said.
He said the Bangkok Council has already approved a budget of more than Bt670 million for installing an additional track on the area used by the Saphan Taksin Station, as well as constructing a 700metre Skywalk in addition to moving walkways for the convenience of passengers who will have to take the Skytrain from the Surasak Station instead.
“We will ensure that commuters continue to enjoy convenience. With the Skywalk and moving walkways, it will only take them five minutes to get from the Saphan Taksin Station to Surasak Station,” he said, adding that about 4,000 commuters used the Saphan Taksin Station daily.
While there are two train tracks for most stretches of the Skytrain system, the portion across the Chao Phraya has just one track due to limited space, thus causing a bottleneck.
Sukhumbhand said that the BMA had initially sought permission from the Department of Rural Roads to expand the Taksin Bridge in order to make way for an additional track, but the department had said it was not possible.
“To find space for the additional track on our own, we will have to use the area currently occupied by the Saphan Taksin Station,” the Bangkok governor said.
Meanwhile, Deputy Bangkok Governor Theerachon Manomaipiboon said the BMA would inform a BTSC coordination committee of the answer it had received from the Department of Rural Roads and present its plan to close down the Saphan Taksin Station.
“After that, we will seek permission from the interior minister to go ahead with this plan,” he said.
In a related development, the House committee on anticorruption yesterday invited representatives of the Sasin Management Consulting (SMC) and the Council of State to testify over the controversial BTSC contract.
Led by Pheu Thai partylist MP Pol LtGeneral Wiroj Paoin, the committee is looking into allegations that the contract is mired with irregularities.
KT hired SMC as a consulting firm earlier this year. SMC executive Thana Siriwallop explained that the scope of the consultancy contract did not cover the estimated figure of Bt6.4 billion, which BMA claims it will save from awarding the 30year contract to BTSC.
“We have just looked at the proposal submitted by the BTSC to determine whether it is appropriate,” Thana said, adding that KT had also hired other consulting firms before SMC stepped in early this year.
Chanis Klaisang from the Council of State said if a private company did not earn any other form of income from the contract apart from the money paid by the BMA, the contract would not fall under the PublicPrivate Partnerships Act.
Pheu Thai MPs believe that the contract might be in violation of this act.