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Bt170-bn loan on track for high-speed rail link

Bt170-bn loan on track for high-speed rail link

MONDAY, June 26, 2017


THE FINANCE MINISTRY is ready to accept a massive loan of up to Bt170 billion to finance the Thai-Chinese high-speed train project pending the Transport Ministry’s final proposal on the controversial scheme, Finance Minister Apisak Tantiworawong says.
The first portion of Bt1.7 billion is already included in the 2018 budget for detailed designs and consultancy work on the Bangkok-Nakhon Ratchasima route. 
Apisak said terms and conditions will be based on the project’s financing plan and the government can borrow from both domestic and foreign sources.
The finance minister said if China |proposes a cheap loan, the government |will consider it, so funding is not a problem. At this stage, he said, the Finance Ministry is awaiting the Transport Ministry’s final version of the project.
Deputy premier Somkid Jatusripitak said Thailand would greatly benefit from China’s further extension of the high-speed train project, which will link the country with the rest of mainland Asean, even though the initial investment cost is |relatively high.
Somkid said the project exemplifies the Thai government’s long-term vision for cross-border development where China is spearheading a major foreign trade and investment drive that covers many countries around the world, including those in Africa and Latin America.
In Southeast Asia, Thailand is centrally located with neighbours such as Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam, plus Malaysia in the south and China in the north, so its strategic location will allow the high-speed train system to connect with many other countries in the future.
However, Korn Chatikavanich, a former finance minister of the Abhisit government, said yesterday the Thai-Chinese train |project should be financed as a joint venture between Thailand and China. He said such a huge investment could lose money and the Thai government would have to set aside a budget to subsidise the service once it is operational.

Not economically worth it: Korn
In 2010, during the Abhisit government’s tenure, the project was set to be 51 per cent owned by the Thai government and 49 per cent by the Chinese government, as China would benefit more from selling its technology to Thailand. In Korn’s |opinion, it would not be economically worthwhile for Thailand to wholly invest in this project.
Korn said the high-speed train from Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima would not be profitable because there are other transport alternatives, such as the new double-rail service and a motorway project.
According to Somkid, the project will lead to many jobs for Thai people as Chinese experts will be hired only for technical and systems work. He said two previous governments could not get the project off the ground so the Prayut government would have to push for it to proceed.
Somkid admitted the project would not generate big returns to cover the entire cost, but there would be other economic benefits, such as development along the route from Bangkok to northeastern provinces.
He said Japan’s famous Shinkansen train system was initiated five decades ago and there were few passengers in the initial years, but it later proved to be more |popular.
In this context, he said, Thailand is already lagging far behind in terms of |railway development.