Academics severely criticise deal with China.
ACADEMICS HAVE cautioned that the Bangkok-Nakhon Ratchasima high-speed train project could end in bankruptcy and fail to develop sought-after technology in Thailand.
Chulalongkorn University yesterday held an academic forum on the controversial Thai-Chinese partnership, with many academics saying they believed that the government had not completely considered all aspects of the mammoth project.
Numerous concerns were raised, including the questionable economic worthiness of the project, the unclear rail infrastructure development strategy, the insufficient effort to ensure technology transfers and the transparency of the project.
Sompong Sirisoponsilp, former director of the Transportation Institute at Chulalongkorn University, said the government had not thoroughly considered the project, which will result in a total economic failure and a loss of other benefits that the government expected.
The high-speed train link between Bangkok and Nongkha is in the initial phase, and is supposed to connect with Chinese high-speed trains in Laos en route to mainland China.
The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) recently issued order 30/2560 to expedite the project by exempting it from many laws.
The project will be 100-per-cent funded by the Thai government and constructed by Chinese engineers and architects using Chinese technology.
Sompong said the government had neglected many important issues, such as connectivity to other transportation systems, the competitiveness of the project compared to buses or airplanes, the customer group and preparedness after the high-speed train links to China.
He also said trains were normally used for transporting people not cargo, so the project would not help to transport Thai products to sell in China.
As the competitiveness and economic worth of the project was also questioned, Sompong said people could travel to Kunming in China in only five hours by airplane for about Bt5,000, while the high-speed train would take seven to eight hours, which meant the train fare had to be lower than Bt5,000 in order to compete.
Nuannoi Trirat, an economist and director of the Institute of Asian Studies at Chulalongkorn University, said the current project in Nakhon Ratchasima was likely to end in bankruptcy as there were limited passengers and many transportation options.
“On the Bangkok to Nakhorn Ratchasima route, there are already three governmental projects: The high-speed train, the dual train tracks project and the new motorway,” Nuannoi said.
“These projects all use the country’s budget and we should prioritise those that will have the most benefits. For this route, I think the dual train tracks will be more reasonable, considering that it can serve local train passengers and is economically more useful.”
Sompong also warned that the government did not have strategies to develop Thailand’s own train technology, as the government had focused on industries for the “Thailand 4.0” that did not include railroads.
“The question is, as we invest in high-speed trains from China, will we able to build our own high-speed trains in the future? The innovation now is more important than infrastructure and if we want to have a high-speed train, we better have our own train industry,” he said.
“Right now we have enough demands to create the train industry, but if we wait and purchase all these things from another nation, we will lose the demand. If we cannot develop our own train industry, we will have to rely on others.”
He also said the technology transfer was very important and the current effort was insufficient. He suggested that the government should make technology transfer a national goal and encourage the Industry and Science and Technology ministries to be part of the project.