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Bt2-trillion loan

Train project 'will only benefit the rich'

Tickets could cost up to Bt2,000 for a 700km journey, Democrats say

The opposition Democrat Party mounted an attack on the government in relation to the proposed Bt2-trillion infrastructure projects in the second and final day of the House debate, saying the high-speed-rail system would mostly benefit the rich and there was no proper planning to accommodate changes in the areas involved.

Meanwhile, the Council of State has ruled that the proposed mass-infrastructure projects are legal and can proceed, Finance Ministry permanent secretary Areepong Poo-cha-um said.

Kanok Wongtra-ngan, a Democrat party-list MP, said that as per the calculations of the plan submitted by the administration of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, commuters would end up having to pay about Bt1.30-Bt3.50 per kilometre for the high-speed train. In other words, a 700km journey could cost between Bt1,800 and Bt2,000, higher than some low-cost airlines.

"If there are fewer than 49,600 commuters per day, the ticket costs will be even higher. Any route that costs commuters more than Bt1,000 one-way will not have customers, because they will choose a cheaper mode of transport. Hence these high-speed trains will only benefit rich folk and businesspeople," Kanok said.

He also slammed Transport Minister Chadchart Sittipunt, saying the remarks he made in Parliament on Thursday were reckless because no plan had been put forward yet as to how all the electricity needed for these trains would be generated.

Chadchart defended himself yesterday by saying that it was important to put this high-speed-rail project in motion and that the Pheu Thai government would implement this as well as the link to Nong Khai if elected for a second term.

The high-speed train is meant to link Bangkok with Chiang Mai, Nakhon Ratchasima, Hua Hin and Rayong.

"The government is not being reckless because we're working within a feasible framework," he said. "For those who think the tickets [for the high-speed train] will be expensive, I think everyone understands that the target groups differ from those using double-track [ordinary] trains, and that's why the government is investing in the ordinary trains nationwide first. In order to serve people's needs, there are more proposed double-track train projects than high-speed ones.

"As for our readiness, we have signed memoranda of understanding with China, Japan and France to get people trained. As for the need for more electricity, we have calculated that this project will only use 1 per cent more power," Chadchart said.

Samart Rajpolsit, another Democrat party-list MP, also questioned why the estimated cost of construction for the high-speed rail system had doubled from Bt300 million per kilometre in 2010 to Bt600 million now.

Democrat MP Boonyod Sukthinthai asked why Wip Winyarat, son of prime minister's policy adviser Pansak Winyarat, was appointed to conduct feasibility research on the high-speed-rail project even though he has no engineering background.


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