Transportation experts speaking at a Thailand Development Research Institute seminar yesterday urged the government to review its high-speed rail projects, citing their doubtful economic worth and a poorly conceived development model for the multi-billion
Sumeth Ongkittikul, TDRI research director for Transportation and Logistics Policy, said Thailand should use a single technology for all high-speed rail projects or set a standard so they can be linked and work together.
“There is rather a high risk on budgeting. Isn’t it too much that we are building all four routes at the same time?” he said, suggesting the government should pick just one route to start work on first.
Premier Prayut Chan-o-cha in March gave the go-ahead for the 253-kilometre Bangkok-Nakhon Ratchasima high-speed rail project under government-to-government cooperation with China.
The administration is also working with the Japanese government to study the northern route from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, as well as the southern and eastern economic-corridor routes that will use the public-private partnership (PPP) investment method.
Sumeth said there had, however, been no public disclosure on how much of the cost of these projects taxpayers would have to shoulder.
“High-speed trains are expensive, which might be suitable for the middle class. The government should not provide too much subsidy,” he said.
“With the high investment cost, it will create a problem in the future,” the researcher warned.
Former Bangkok deputy governor Samart Ratchapollasit described the government’s latest decision to commence the Bangkok-Nakhon Ratchasima project with just an initial 3.5km section as “image making, and a juggling act”.
“It [building just 3.5km of the route] is not worthwhile in either the short or the long term,” he said.
Samart said the decision to simultaneously build a dual-track metre-gauge railway along the same routes as high-speed rail tracks, and to build a motorway from Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima, undermined the feasibility of the project. The dual-track railway, construction of which is due to commence shortly, will cut the journey time from the capital to Nakhon Ratchasima province from four to five hours to just over two hours, with fares expected to cost Bt100-Bt200.
In comparison, the fare for travelling on the high-speed train is expected to be no less than Bt2 per kilometre, or Bt500 per passenger.
Moreover, the Bt80-billion motorway project will cut road-travel time from Bangkok to the northeastern province to less than two hours. “If you will travel with a few people, would you take the high-speed train for two-and-a-half hours? There is also a problem of connecting to the city [of Nakhon Ratchasima], as there is no transportation system to facilitate it,” he added.
Agachai Sumalee, director of the Smart Cities Research Centre at King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology Lat Krabang, told the seminar that whereas it was usually difficult to get a feasible financial return from mass-transit projects, many countries had used high-speed rail projects as a national development tool.