March 02, 2012 00:00 By MONTIEN INTAKET WATCHARAPONG
No injuries, but debris litters railway; officials say parts of supporting scaffolding stolen
A section of the abandoned Hopewell elevated train project collapsed in Bangkok’s Chatuchak district yesterday morning, prompting authorities to check the strength of the rest of the project’s towering, unused structures. No one was injured in yesterday’s collapse.
Transport Minister Charupong Ruangsuwan said he had instructed the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) to check the Hopewell structures and reinforce them where necessary.
“The SRT has also been ordered to consider dismantling those parts that consist only of iron,” he said.
Charupong said the SRT has assigned the Engineering Institute of Thailand to examine the Hopewell structures.
“I have received a report that the SRT had used scaffolding to support some parts of the Hopewell structure [that collapsed], but someone stole iron bars from the scaffolding. The iron scaffolding could not longer shoulder the weight of a concrete beam supporting the structure,” the transport minister said.
When the concrete beam crumbled, concrete chunks were scattered over a nearby inbound railway track. Arrangements were made to use an alternate tack, ensuring train service continued uninterrupted even as officials continued to remove debris from the track.
Locals said they rushed to the site after hearing something collapse. The spot is just 100 metres from Samian Naree Temple.
Police suggested that stolen bolts and iron bars within the scaffolding, in addition to a lack of maintenance, might have been responsible for the collapse of the long-neglected structure.
Investigations are ongoing to determine the exact cause of the incident.
SRT Governor Yuttana Tapcharoen yesterday said it took about three hours to clear the debris from the affected track, and that it would take about one week to clear all of the debris from the affected area.
“Engineers will be dispatched to determine the extent of the damage to the structure,” he said.
Yuttana said the strength of the structure had been checked earlier, prompting the erection of scaffolding to support the concrete beam.
“But recently, thieves stole iron bars from the structure. That’s probably why the beam fell,” he said.
Initiated during the Chatichai Choonhavan administration, the Hopewell Project was planned as an elevated train route intended to solve Bangkok’s traffic problems. SNC-Lavalin was named the concessionaire of the project in a contract signed by the then-transport minister in 1990.
The contract was later reviewed, scrapped and revived, before being permanently abandoned in 1997.
After the government officially cancelled the contract, the concessionaire demanded compensation.
On November 8, 2008, an arbitration panel issued a ruling requiring the Transport Ministry and SRT to pay Bt11.885 billion to the concessionaire, who started construction but never finished it.
Many structures erected as part of the doomed project still stand in Bangkok.
An informed source said the SRT had filed a petition with the Central Administrative Court asking for permission not to pay compensation to the Hopewell concessionaire.
Authorities have been looking into the possibility of integrating some of the unused Hopewell structures into the Red Line train project.