Relief – in the form of long-awaited and badly needed extensions to the Skytrain and subway systems – is on the way at last
Bangkok and the provinces on its periphery are undertaking their biggest-ever construction projects, building new Skytrain and subway lines in a bid to double the capital’s existing rail mass-transit network, from 109 to 212 kilometres over the next five years.
Altogether five new and extended routes will be added to the present system – thanks to the speedy decision-making process over the past four years enabling multiple infrastructure mega-projects of this massive scale to go ahead in one burst.
So far, no irregularities have been uncovered with regard to the implementation of these multibillion-baht construction schemes and the routings appear generally sound technically, with no reports of political interference to divert routes for vested business interests.
Bangkokians got their first two Skytrain lines nearly two decades ago, after which route extensions were comparatively short and slow – with the exception of the MRT subway lines and, later, the Airport Rail Link. After the long wait, construction of over 100km of new lines is now underway almost simultaneously.
While Bangkok’s traffic is undoubtedly set for further rounds of heavy congestion, especially around the multiple building sites appearing in various suburbs, residents should be patient, given that their nightmare will be for the city’s long-term good.
Three of the new lines should be finished within the next three years, while the other two will be ready in about five years. Once they’re completed, Bangkok will have one of the most extensive public transit networks among big cities, reducing dependence on the use of private vehicles that have been choking the city’s traffic flow for decades.
Even today, about 1,000 new vehicles are added to city streets on a daily basis, while Bangkok faces many constraints to build new roads to accommodate the extra traffic – from ever-rising land expropriation and building costs to the scarcity of available space. In fact, the metropolis of more than 10 million people has less road surface than many other big cities, totalling just 9 per cent of its total urban area, compared to 25 per cent in Tokyo and 30 per cent in New York City.
The result is traffic gridlock during rush hours in most inner-city areas, where traffic moves just 15km per hour on average. Yet the majority of Bangkokians use private vehicles to commute to work, accounting for 65 per cent of total residents, while the rest use public transport.
Besides a more efficient daily commute infrastructure, the sprawling new Skytrain and subway lines linking the inner city with suburban areas have significantly contributed to the redevelopment of Bangkok as a thriving commercial, residential and tourist hub among Southeast Asian countries. It will surge ahead of several other big cities in the region in terms of having an extensive public transit service, with 212km of Skytrain and subway lines in service by the end of 2023.
For the period after that, a master plan has been formulated to further extend the lines to a total of 464km over the next two decades, putting Bangkok among the world’s top five big cities with the largest rail mass-transit system.