August 17, 2012 00:00 By Nakarin Srilert
The government is planning to open bidding for the first phase of the high-speed train project with a total investment of Bt400 billion to make Thailand a hub for Asean connectivity.
Under the plan, four routes will be opened for international bidding early next year. China, Japan, South Korea and France have expressed interest in bidding for the routes.
The plan aims to boost Thailand’s economy by reducing energy cost by Bt400 billion and increasing the value of farm goods by Bt300 billion per year. In addition, it will also directly upgrade Thailand’s one tambon one product (Otop) to have more distribution channels as well as develop manufacturers who are mainly small-and-medium enterprises, to create a new city and industrial zone, to link trading points with tourist destinations, and upgrade the living standards of Thais.
Pansak Vinyaratn, chief adviser to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, said yesterday in an interview with Krungthep Turakij newspaper that the Transport Ministry would propose the master plan for Cabinet approval this year. The approval will allow the government to open international bidding by next year.
The first-phase high-speed train routes will cover 250 kilometres of track over four routes –Bangkok-Pitsanulok, Bangkok-Nakhon Ratchasima, Bangkok-Pattaya and Bangkok-Hua Hin.
"Construction work on those four routes would start at the same time to ensure their completion as planned in 2018," said Pansak, noting that in the same year, Dawei Port will also be completed. This will encourage Thailand to be the logistics hub of the Asean region with all basic infrastructure such as inland transportation, rail and deep seaport on the East and West.
He added that the government also plans to continue the second-phase construction – to be completed by 2022. It includes the Bangkok-Chiang Mai, Bangkok-Nongkhai, Bangkok-Rayong, and Bangkok-Hat Yai routes. The construction of the high-speed train will be on the side of the existing railway routes.
The ministry has already conducted partly the environmental impact assessment, which needs to be done to ensure value of investment. At this point, the ministry will allow all provinces along the way of the high-speed train route to propose the setting up of stations for the Cabinet’s consideration.
"High-speed trains are necessary to ensure solid growth of the Kingdom’s economy otherwise Thailand would lose competitiveness in the long run," said Pansak.
According the government’s study, the high-speed train is a basic infrastructure necessity for Thailand’s transportation system in the next 80 years. In particular, the high-speed train project will shift Thailand to focus more on rail transportation, with the ratio projected to reach 80 per cent compared with 2 per cent now. So far, transportation in Thailand has mainly focused on road, accounting for 80 per cent.
In addition, the study also pointed out that land transportation would be gradually reduced as oil price is estimated to reach US$180 per barrel within the next five years.
"The high-speed train is considered a backbone project for Thailand to create hope for the Thai economy. The project will not only create linkage for other businesses with the logistics system but also ensure income distribution to rural areas," said Pansak.
The high-speed train service will include both passenger and cargo, which will also facilitate faster transportation of farm goods. It is expected that this rail system will reduce fermentation loss during transportation by 35 per cent or Bt300 billion per year.
The success of the high-speed train construction will prompt Thailand Post to restructure its organisation to become a real logistics service operator for light-weight goods. However, heavy-weight products such as the cement, steel and others will use rail transportation, on which the government plans to spend Bt140 billion for renovation.
Transport Ministry’s permanent secretary Silapachai Jarukasemratana said yesterday, after meeting a representative from China, that he has ordered the Office of Transportation and Traffic Policy and Planning to set up committees to study the four high-speed train routes. The committees will also work with interested bidders to learn more details of the projects.
The office will select a consultant company for the high-speed train project.
Chinese representatives are interested in investing either wholly owned by the Thai government or as a joint venture.