Fast Thai rail link unveiled 

Thailand’s military-appointed cabinet says it has approved a US$7-billion high-speed rail project between three airports.

Annual tourist arrivals of more than half the Thai population have strained Thai infrastructure and linking Bangkok’s Don Mueang and Suvarnabhumi airports with the Vietnam-war-era U-Tapao would address the issue, the government said.

U-Tapao is a joint civil-military airport that serves Rayong and seedy tourist hotspot of Pattaya on the coast to the east of Bangkok.

Nattaporn Jatusripitak, an adviser to the military-controlled Prime Minister’s Office, said the government expected to select winners for the public-private partnership in October with services due in 2023.

The 220km rail project is part of the junta’s high-profile Eastern Economic Corridor to develop infrastructure in Rayong, Chachoengsao and Chonburi provinces, to the east of the capital.

Building contractor CH Karnchangsaid said it was waiting to see the terms of reference of the tender process before considering whether to participate because of the long-term nature of the investment.

The company built a large portion of Bangkok’s underground rail network and many of its highways.

The project is part of a US$60-billion transport action plan, covering railways, roads, airports and ports in a bid to boost growth that has lagged behind other Asean members since the May 2014 coup.

Industry Minister Uttama Savanayana said at projected speeds of up to 250km per hour, trains would take an estimated 45 minutes to link Bangkok and U-Tapao, compared to around three hours by car. The route would initially have stations in Chachoengsao, Chon Buri, Si Racha (home to a large Toyota factory), Pattaya and U-Tapao.

A model of the fastest Chinese-manufactured train, the CRH380A, capable of a top speed of 350 km per hour, was on display at the airport-rail link’s station at Makkasan (pictured).

The fares from Makkasan in Bangkok were projected to be 270 baht (US$8.6) to Pattaya and 330 baht to U-Tapao airport, said Uttama.

Further rail extensions would reduce the travel time from Bangkok to Rayong to one hour, 100 minutes to Chanthaburi and 120 minutes to Trat near the Cambodian border which offers access to idyllic, unspoilt islands like Koh Wai.

The finance ministry has forecast economic growth of 4.2 per cent in 2017, after 3.9-per-cent growth in 2017, the fastest increase in five years.

Tourism accounts for about 12 per cent of Asean’s second-largest economy, after Indonesia.


Makkasan intersection at night. Picture credit: Wikimedia