Pansak Vinyarat, chairman of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's advisory board, has taken up the task of spearheading the government's bid to build four high-speed railway routes, which will require a combined investment of over Bt400 billion.
The projects are part of the government’s Bt2.2 trillion infrastructure investment programme covering the next several years, with the four high-speed train projects earmarked for completion in 2018.
The proposed high-speed routes are Bangkok-Pattaya, Bangkok-Phitsanulok, Bangkok-Nakhon Ratchasima, and Bangkok-Hua Hin.
In the second stage of these projects, slated for completion by 2022, the high-speed lines will be further extended to Bangkok-Rayong, Bangkok-Chiang Mai, Bangkok-Nong Khai, and Bangkok-Hat Yai, thus covering all the major regions of Thailand.
Most importantly, the Bangkok-Nong Khai route to the Northeast is expected to link with high-speed trains from Laos and southern China.
Construction of the China-Laos section of the high-speed line is expected to commence soon, following a brief delay.
During the tenure of the previous Democrat government, China and Thailand reached a preliminary agreement to cooperate on the high-speed train project, as China aims to link its southern region with the mainland Asean countries.
The Asean Economic Community (AEC), which will become effective in 2015, is a key driver in the government’s bid to revive the four high-speed train routes, as Thailand has the potential to be a hub in the mainland AEC for both cargo and tourist traffic.
According to Pansak, Thailand will invite companies from China, South Korea, Japan and France to bid for the high-speed train projects here.
These projects will also lead to a better link with Myanmar’s proposed Dawei deep-sea port and industrial estate development schemes, which are close to the Thai province of Kanchanaburi. For instance, the distance between the planned Dawei port and Thailand’s Laem Chabang deep-sea port on the Eastern Seaboard is only 450-500 kilometres.
Besides China, India is also keen to connect with Asean countries via its border with Myanmar. The Indian government has offered a US$500 million credit line to Myanmar, of which $100 million is earmarked for construction of a trilateral highway linking India, Myanmar and Thailand.
The route will be 3,200 kilometres in total length, and development work includes improvement of existing roads in India and Myanmar, which will be linked with Thailand via the northern provinces of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, as well as via a route for the planned Dawei port. This will complete the Asean east-west economic corridor running from India, Myanmar and Thailand to Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.
For the Asean north-south economic corridor, the route starts in southern China and connect through Myanmar, Laos and Thailand to Cambodia and Vietnam, and then all the way down to Malaysia and Singapore.
By assigning Pansak to spearhead the Bt400-billion high-speed train schemes in Thailand, the government is playing a crucial role in pushing for fast-track implementation of Asean connectivity schemes, which cover highways, railways and other modes of transportation. It is hoped that the transport infrastructure will eventually be designed to cover the entire 10-country regional grouping, which has a combined population of 600 million.
Besides Asean itself, the grouping has another six partner countries, namely China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, whose combined population accounts for half of the world’s total.