Airport Rail Link suffers 70 million baht monthly loss amid 25% commuter drop

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The State Railway of Thailand (SRT) reports that the Airport Rail Link (ARL) service has been losing 70 million baht per month, as it continues to carry fewer passengers than before the pandemic in 2019. To address long-standing operational issues, the SRT chose to involve a private company, Asia Era One, in managing rail operations during the pandemic.

An agreement was signed with Asia Era One on October 20, 2021, allowing the company to take over ARL operations. Asia Era One also began managing the Red Line electric train service in late 2021. ARL ridership has decreased by 25%, with approximately 1.87 million commuters per month compared to 2.5 million in 2019, according to SRT governor Nirut Maneephan.

The contract with Asia Era One required the company to pay 10.6 billion baht to the SRT for operational rights by October 24, 2021. However, the company proposed paying in instalments, leading to a revision of the co-investment agreement. The SRT has not yet transferred executive rights to the ARL to Asia Era One, pending contract revision.

The memorandum of understanding is renewed every three months until it is completed. “For now, the company is only paying interest to the SRT,” Nirut said.

Technical issues causing service interruptions have long been a concern for regular ARL passengers. In January, the ARL experienced five technical issues, including propulsion system problems, brake, door, and signal system issues, resulting in delays of six to 19 minutes. In February, March, and April, the propulsion system encountered issues multiple times, Bangkok Post reports.

An insider familiar with the system noted that Asia Era One bears higher rail management costs than the SRT, as staff-related expenses have doubled, while other expenses related to electricity and maintenance remain the same. The number of trips has not changed, but the income generated from ARL services is still insufficient due to the reduced number of commuters, the source added.

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Mitch Connor

Mitch is a Bangkok resident, having relocated from Southern California, via Florida in 2022. He studied journalism before dropping out of college to teach English in South America. After returning to the US, he spent 4 years working for various online publishers before moving to Thailand.