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Thailand’s high speed rail future “not the right fit”

Greeley Pulitzer

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Thailand’s high speed rail future “not the right fit” | The Thaiger

After years of delays, negotiations and more negotiations, bullet trains (high-speed trans) are coming to Thailand. But with one project underway, another already approved and others being considered, many speculate if high speed rail is the right fit for the Kingdom.

Critics say the existing contracts with the Chinese are more about a political jibe at the US over its criticism following the 2014 coup, than actually meeting any transport needs for such a rail service.

But Thai shipping magnate Thanet Sorat says that the high speed train network will be a game changer for Thailand. Thanet is an adviser to Thailand’s Senate Committee on Transportation, and president of the Thai Authorised Customs Brokers Association. He wants to see the trains, with top speeds 250 kph “pin-balling” around the country within four years. He may be over-optimistic.

The current projects will use Chinese HSR (high speed rail) technology. Even though Thailand has declined Chinese loans to pay for the high speed trains, the projects are considered a part of the broader Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, a massive ‘foreign policy’ plan to connect China to the rest of Asia through transport infrastructure.

The Chinese government have been spending up big on massive these projects throughout the pan-Asian continent for the past decade. (Meanwhile Britain spends four years figuring out how to leave the EU and the US President is hell-bent on building walls along the US southern border)

A massive new rail hub is being constructed in Bang Sue which will replace the 103 year old Hualamphong Station in Bangkok. The new station in the city’s northern suburbs will serve the new high-speed network as well as the existing rail services, which are currently being upgraded from single to dual track around the country.

Just last month Thailand’s CP Group signed a contract with State Railway of Thailand for the construction of a new high speed rail link joining Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang airports in greater Bangkok, to Chachoengsao, Chonburi, Sriracha and Pattaya in the east, as well as the U-Tapao airport, serving Pattaya and the Eastern Economic Corridor. This is expected to be operational by 2024.

Thailand's high speed rail future

GRAPHIC: CNN Travel

In the medium to long-term the government is also planning to move around 10% of the flights from Suvarnabhumi to an upgraded U-Tapao, taking some of the pressure off the over-capacity BKK airport.

Khun Thanet says the goal is to provide easy access to the Eastern Economic Corridor, a zone that constitutes 80% of total foreign investment in Thailand. The EEC project is the Thai government’s flagship economic project.

The three-airport/EEC high speed rail links are also expected to take some of the pressure of the highways and will reduce current travel times by more than half.

But some critics wonder if the expensive high-speed solution, using Chinese technology, is the right fit for Thailand. They argue that a traditional dual track extension of the existing network, serving the eastern area of Bangkok, would suffice. Currently the only way to head east from Suvarnabhumi is by jumping in a taxi or passenger van for the nearly two hour ride to Pattaya.

They point out that some 3,000 houses will also have to be demolished for the new high-speed lines with the government still embroiled in court cases over forced land appropriations.

Thailand's high speed rail future

GRAPHIC: CNN Travel

The other project already underway is the Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima high-speed rail line. This line will link Bangkok with Don Mueang and Ayutthaya, and then north east to Korat. Eventually this line, expected to be completed in 2023, will be extended to the Laos border at Nong Khai, linking with another high-speed rail service currently under construction in Laos which will run through to Kunming in China.

But critics argue that this grand project, given the green light by the NCPO military government in 2017, is a route to ‘nowhere in particular’ because, they claim, Thailand’s north-east is not generally on the tourist map, or certainly not as popular as the other hot-spots, and that local Thais won’t be able to afford a ticket.

They also say the military government’s projections at the time just don’t add up, reckoning the proposed passenger traffic falls 90% below the numbers needed to repay the investors over 20 years. They claim the decision was made as a concession to China in a broader foreign policy ‘tiff’ with the US, who were heavily critical of the Thai military coup in 2014.

Government-sponsored travel around Thailand has been a loss-maker for years. Both the State Rail Authority and the government-run bus services have long operated at financial losses as passenger numbers dwindle each year (as Thais buy more cars and road networks improve).

Then there’s the rising losses, over a decade, for Thai Airways. Budget carriers like Air Asia, Lion Air, Vietjet and Nok Air compete with fares from Bangkok to more than 20 other Thai cities for as little as US$20. Thai Airways and its shorter-haul subsidiary, Thai Smile, have struggled to compete.

The high speed rail fares will be higher and the commercial airlines will surely compete to keep their market share. The bullet train from Bangkok to U-Tapao is projected to cost 330 baht and Bangkok to Korat 500 baht.

In the future, Khun Thanet sees Thailand as a central hub in Southeast Asia linked by high speed rail. He also suggests that “20 years into the future, we should be able to produce high-speed trains ourselves and not only buy them from China or Japan.”

Currently the Thai government is also considering more high speed lines running north from Bangkok, through central Thailand to Chiang Mai, south from Bangkok through Petchaburi, Hua Hin, Surat Thani to Hat Yai, and extending further east from Pattaya, through Rayong to Chanthaburi and Trat on the Cambodian border.

SOURCE: CNN Travel

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Phuket

Phuket Light Rail project hits a few speed bumps

The Thaiger

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Phuket Light Rail project hits a few speed bumps | The Thaiger

The Phuket Light Rail (Phuket Tram) project has hit a few hurdles and has been shelved, apparently temporarily, whilst some further studies are conducted into the ambitious public transport project. The proposed tram route was proposed to start at Phuket Airport and finish at the Chalong Intersection, with a total of 21 stations along the way.

As president of the Mass Rapid Transit Authority of Thailand’s board, the Department of Highways director-general Sarawut Songsiriwilai has announced that the board agreed to “temporarily halt” the development of the Phuket Tram project and is seeking a further study of the impacts across all aspects of the project.

“One of the key aspects that needs reconsideration is the estimated number of passengers, which is thought to be inaccurate.”

“The project also needs further study on the travel behaviour of local residents and an estimate of the numbers of foreign tourists visiting Phuket in the future.”

“The board still believes that the project is feasible, and that a thorough study of “impacts in all dimensions” will help improve investors’ confidence in the project.”

Reading between the lines The Thaiger assumes that an early call for investment has come up with a lukewarm reception. We’ve called out the Board on their projected passenger numbers for the project in the past and been skeptical about the reported advantages to locals using the new system when 1) it was going to be quite expensive, 2) would have meant a total change of existing travel habits of locals, and 3) was going to take a route north to south that didn’t include many of the island’s tourism hot spots, making it fairly useless for tourists.

Meanwhile, MRTA governor Pakapong Sirikantaramas says that the Phuket Tram project is currently undergoing the Environmental Impact Assessment process as well as selecting investment models.

“The board’s order to perform further studies should not impact the bidding process, which is still slated for before the end of 2020. MRTA will begin the study as soon as possible and will present preliminary results to the next board meeting.”

“This project will have a combined distance of 42 kilometres, 30.2 km at the ground level, while 2.7 km. will be elevated and 9.1 km. will be constructed underground.”

Pakapong added that the Phuket Tram will be a Public Private Partnership project with an estimated total budget of 34.5 billion baht, comprising 26 billion baht for construction, 1.5 billion baht for land reclamation and a 7 billion baht operational budget.

SOURCE: The Nation

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Thailand

Ride-hailing service Grab to be legalised in Thailand

Greeley Pulitzer

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Ride-hailing service Grab to be legalised in Thailand | The Thaiger

PHOTO: Investvine

Grab Car and Grab Bike, the ride and taxi hailing apps, are likely to become legal in Thailand after the head of the Land Transport Department said public consultation was mostly positive. The DLT received around 1000 supportive comments and observations in a consultation, according to Thai news agency Sanook.

The department will submit its findings to the Transport Ministry and is preparing to make the necessary changes to accommodate Grab, subject to approval. The move has been on the books over the past six months.

Grab and other such services are technically still illegal in Thailand but have become popular anyway with customers voting with their phone apps and using the newer, more nimble and reliable, services. But it hasn’t all been plain sailing with traditional taxi services and ‘win’ motorcycle taxis fighting back, verbally and physically. There have been multiple brawls and disputes, some deadly.

The service has had other problems, as local drivers have gone on strike several times, demanding better wages and benefits with the global ride-hailing companies.

Several groups representing traditional motorbike taxi drivers and car taxis are protesting any change to the law, insisting that the service should remain illegal.

SOURCE: The Pattaya News

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Bangkok

Airport Link offers free rides on December 12 so people can watch the Royal Barge Procession

The Thaiger & The Nation

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Airport Link offers free rides on December 12 so people can watch the Royal Barge Procession | The Thaiger

PHOTO: royalcoastreview.com

Bangkok’s Airport Rail Link is offering free rides on December 12 to people heading to the shores of the Chao Phraya, and vantage points, to welcome His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn in the final act of the Royal Coromnation.

The Royal Barge Procession is the final ceremony of his coronation which was held earlier this year between May 4-6.

The procession, which has taken place for nearly 700 years, will proceed along Chao Phraya River with the government setting up spectator location along the banks for this rare spectacle.

Some of the locations along the river will include Thammasat University, Santichaiprakarn Park, Nakapirom Park, Siriraj Hospital, and Wat Rakhang Khositaram.

The State Railway of Thailand’s director-general, Suthep Panpeng says the Airport Rail Link, carrying passengers from Suvarnabhumi in the east to Phayathai in the centre of Bangkok, will offer free rides from 5.30am to midnight.

The free tickets will be available at all stations. It is envisaged that there will be other concessions and free transport available on the day to assist people getting around the city. The Thaiger will provide full information when it becomes available.

SOURCE: The Nation

Airport Link offers free rides on December 12 so people can watch the Royal Barge Procession | News by The Thaiger

The Airport Rail Link is the Red Line, carrying passengers from Suvarnabhumi in the east to Phayathai in the centre of Bangkok, linking to the Green Line.

Airport Link offers free rides on December 12 so people can watch the Royal Barge Procession | News by The Thaiger

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