CONSTRUCTION of a much-improved rail link from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is expected to start next year, but the government will evaluate whether to proceed with a proposed high-speed service or switch to a medium-speed alternative, Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak said yesterday.
If the government went with the original high-speed proposal, the investment value would be up to Bt500 billion, Somkid said after the meeting in Sukhothai province. Regardless of which option was chosen, construction was expected to start next year, he said.
The Cabinet asked the Ministry of Transport to conduct a feasibility study on a medium-speed train service, as an alternative to the high-speed train for the Bangkok-Chiang Mai route, while seeking funding for the project under the project under a public-private partnership (PPP) model, Somkid said.
The Cabinet meeting yesterday also acknowledged the goals of the transport infrastructure development plan for the North for promoting broader development and economic connectivity with Greater Mekong Sub-region with investment budget of Bt135 billion for road transport in the North from 2014-2018.
Somkid said the study would look into the worthiness of investment and opportunities for PPP investment, adding that the project envisaged a construction start in 2018.
The move comes after the release of the Japan International Coopera-tion Agency's recent study on the planned Bangkok-Chiang Mai high-speed train project that estimated investment of Bt400-Bt500 billion.
Medium-speed train travels at 180-200 kilometres per hour, while high-speed trains go at about 250 kilometres per hour.
In regard to the double-track railway project next year, Ministry of Transport will sign contracts with private companies for five routes.
Taking the worthiness of investment into consideration, the Bangkok-Chiang Mai rail service would not connect with Yunnan province in southern China, a medium-speed train would also help promote tourism, Somkid said.
“We want construction to start next year. Meanwhile, we have to see the conditions on whether or not we can do the PPP scheme as we talked to Japan about this project as a G2G (government to government) project,” Somkid said.
Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith said that the proposed investment for the Bangkok-Chiang Mai high-speed train project was relatively high and the Cabinet asked the ministry to gather more details on the project’s worthiness and the possibility for private participation.
The Cabinet has not postponed the project and the ministry will forward the to-be-detailed project to the Cabinet meeting for approval in principle in March 2018, he said.
In the overall plan for transport network development in the North, the double-track railway for the Denchai-Chiang Mai route would help reduce travel time between Bangkok and Chiang Mai from 14 hours to 12 hours, while a Chiang Mai-Chiang Rai-Chiang Khong project is expected to be proposed to the Cabinet early next year.
For road projects, the North has been allotted 24 per cent of a road construction budget to connect the region with neighbouring countries, including Laos, and construction for an Uttaradit-Tak and Mae Sot-Nan routes has been accelerated for linkages with tourism benefits.
Several air transport development projects need to be expedited in the North, Arkhom said. These projects include expansion of Chiang Mai airport, which now accommodates 10 million passengers per year. The other three airports - in Lampang, Prae and Nan provinces - have seen some congestion, prompting plans to enlarge their runway capabilities. An airport in Tak province is scheduled to provide services in May 2018.
Sansern Kaewkamnerd, government spokesman, said that the Cabinet meeting yesterday acknowledged the value of the transportation infrastructure development plan for the North in promoting broader development and economic connectivity with Greater Mekhong Sub-region, with an investment budget of Bt135 billion for road transport in the region from 2014-18.