Thailand Expects to have bullet trains running by 2023
After years of delays and much debate, it is finally happening. Bullet trains are coming to Thailand.
With one project under construction, another approved and others being considered, many from the nation are questioning whether high-speed rail (HSR) will be the ideal fit for the nation.
“This Will be a big change for Thailand,” says Thanet Sorat, an adviser to Thailand’s Senate Committee on Transportation, vice president of the transport company, V-Servepresident, and president of the Thai Authorized Customs Brokers Association.
He expects to see glistening trains pinballing around the nation at 155 mph (250 kph) in five years.
Both projects currently in the works will use Chinese HSR technology. Though Thailand diminished Chinese loans, the jobs are considered a part of their Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a plan that aims to connect China to the rest of Asia through new transport infrastructure.
Bangkok to Pattaya in 45 minutes
Expected to start in 2021 to replace Bangkok’s 103-year-old Hualamphong Station, a massive new rail hub in the town’s Bang Sue district will serve passengers with both HSR and the nation’s existing railway network, which is being upgraded from single to dual track.
Tied to this, on October 24, a conglomerate headed by Thailand’s CP Group signed a contract with the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) for the construction of an HSR line linking Bangkok’s two airports, Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang, to three eastern states.
It will operate in addition to the present Airport Rail Link, an elevated train that connects Suvarnabhumi into Bangkok’s metro system.
The planned line, starting from Don Mueang then passing through Bang Sue, will also stop at Makkasan in central Bangkok before moving to Chachoengsao, Chonburi, Sriracha and Pattaya, a major tourist destination located 75 miles (120 kilometers ) south of Bangkok on the Gulf of Thailand.
Service Start 2024
Expected to start service in 2024, the 137-mile line will terminate at U-Tapao Airport, outside of Pattaya in Rayong province.
The government plans to transfer some 10% of flights from Bangkok to a redesigned U-Tapao so as to ease congestion at Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang.
“To do that, they want a transportation link between the airports, and it may be a fantastic chance for HSR,” says Jittichai Rudjanakanoknad of Chulalongkorn University’s Department of Civil Engineering.
A conglomerate headed by Thailand’s Charoen Pokphand Group (CP), which also contains the China Railway Construction Corp., will pay an investment of 224 billion baht ($7.4 billion) in exchange for real estate concessions and a 50-year permit to operate the line.
One goal is to provide easy access to the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC), a zone that Thanet says represents 80 percent of total foreign investment in Thailand.
Supporters point out that HSR will decrease travel time between Bangkok’s two airports to only 20 minutes. And shuttle visitors to Pattaya in less than an hour. They also predict it will decrease traffic on highways, curtailing accidents in a country with one of the world’s highest road fatality rates.
Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang
As it stands, transferring between Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang entails a shuttle bus journey that can last an hour or more during Bangkok’s notoriously sluggish rush hours.
Reaching Pattaya out of Suvarnabhumi requires haggling with a taxi driver, taking a cramped van or traveling across town to catch a bus from Ekkamai Terminal for the two-hour ride.
“Joining the three airports is a noble goal,” says Ruth Banomyong, director of the Center for Logistics Research at Bangkok’s Thammasat University.
But he and other critics wonder whether HSR is the ideal option, given the high price and relatively short distances involved. Some argue that dual-track rail would suffice for the eastern states, which now lack any railway at all.
The SRT said in September that 80 percent of land required for the three-airport lineup has been procured for expropriation, and the Bangkok Post has reported that 3,000 homes will have to be demolished. Adding that gas and electrical lines may also be affected, Jittichai says,”it is not easy to relocate people. Some are going to court and it takes quite a long time.”
Expected to start in 2023, Thailand’s maiden HSR line is currently under construction beside existing railway tracks in Nakhon Ratchasima, a northeastern state also known as Khorat.
Unlike on the three-airport line, Chinese state companies are responsible for nearly all the construction.
Starting at Bang Sue, this 157-mile”Khorat line” will stop at Don Mueang Airport and the historical capital of Ayutthaya before cutting northeast to Saraburi and Pak Chong near the popular Khao Yai National Park. It will terminate at Khorat — at least until the track is extended.
The government’s long-term plan is to extend the line north to Nong Khai, located 370 miles (600 kilometers ) northeast of Bangkok and home to a popular border crossing that enables travelers to reach the Lao capital of Vientiane. After crossing the Mekong River on a new bridge, passengers would be able to continue north on another HSR line currently being assembled in Laos.
The ultimate goal is to link these lines with Kunming in southern China’s Yunnan province.
He Khorat lineup has drawn more criticism than the three-airport lineup as a result of investment of 179 billion baht ($5.9 billion) worth of public funds.
Critics argue that northeast Thailand isn’t on the agenda for the majority of tourists, while also expressing frustration about a lack of transparency when Thailand’s military government approved the project in 2017.
In a report published by The Diplomat, Pechnipa Dominique Lam of the Thailand Development Research Institute estimated that the line”would want to ferry 50,000-85,000 passengers each day for 20 years so as to pay back the costs of investment.” At just 5,000-25,000 riders every day, the Transport Ministry’s own forecasts fall well short of those amounts.
“Taking into account the advantages arising from the HSR, such as passengers’ time savings on travel,” she went on,”the economic case in favor of performing the job is still outweighed by its financial losses.”
“This line is chiefly influenced by China,” adds Jittichai.
“If Thailand assembles it, we may not find much benefit. But if we do not build it, we can lose other benefits from China. That is what the government is believing.”
“There’s a strong risk that HSR may not succeed because of present transport connectivity,” according to Ruth.
Both the SRT and the state-run bus service have operated at financial losses as passenger numbers decline each year. The state-run airline, THAI, is also fighting as budget carriers such as Air Asia and Nok Air compete with fares from Bangkok to more than 20 other Thai cities for as little as $20.
Critics also wonder if sufficient Thai people can afford HSR in a state with a notably broad financial split and a minimum wage of just 300 baht ($10) per day.
Although most middle-class Thais can manage the proposed 330 baht fare for a bullet train from Bangkok to U-Tapao, and 500 baht to Khorat, many are attached to their private automobiles.
As for the working class, they may wind up sticking to buses and vans that cost approximately a quarter of the proposed ticket prices for HSR. Regular trains are much cheaper and the forthcoming dual tracks will shorten travel times on existing railway lines, adding another layer of competition.
Whilst waiting for a train at Khorat’s 119-year-old railway station, Daeng Tungsunern, a Khorat native who sells second-hand goods, tells CNN, “I didn’t know about the HSR project until it was already being assembled. I won’t use it because it is going to be too pricey for my budget.”
“Much like in Japan”
Later on, Thanet envisions Thailand as a central hub in Southeast Asia connected by bullet trains. He also sees value in the transfer of technologies, suggesting that”20 years into the future, we should be able to generate high-speed trains ourselves and not just buy them from China or Japan.”
Jittichai agrees HSR could become worthwhile “when taking a look at a broader network, by way of example, if the Thai lines can be linked to the Chinese community or Singapore, or even to central Asia and Europe.”
To that end, the government is considering additional HSR lines running north from Bangkok to Nakhon Sawan, Phitsanulok and Chiang Mai; south through Hua Hin, Surat Thani and Hat Yai; and farther east from Rayong to Chanthaburi and Trat near Cambodia.
Subsequent projects might extend the southern line through Malaysia to Singapore, while a northern line could link with a western extension to Myanmar and onwards to India.
The SRT is already promoting these additional jobs, but the extremely substantial price tags are likely to prohibit them from taking shape any time soon.
“If the expense of construction and technology gets cheaper, that is when you may observe these other lines,” says Jittichai.
Back inside Khorat’s railway station, Paitoon Tikul, a retired soldier who rides trains and his bike around Thailand to raise money for charity, says,”I believe HSR will be useful for certain men and women. However, the cost of these projects is quite costly, and I worry about corruption. In my view, it would be better to use that money for improving schools, hospitals, and much more useful things.”
As roughly 50-year-old train clinks to the station, railway police captain Nutthawoot Sawanphomrat interjects, saying”I believe HSR will be good for the country and the economy. Exactly like in Japan.”
Source from CNN Travel