Critics fall silent on Thai junta’s high-speed rail plans
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Critics fall silent on Thai junta’s high-speed rail plans

The Yingluck Shinawatra government planned to spend 2 trillion baht (US62.3 billion) on infrastructure spending. Dr. Chadchart Sittipunt, Minister of Transport in a presentation to the Thai-Japanese Association outlined the spending for the 2 trillion baht infrastructure project. Below are the four main items:

  • Infrastructure Development Programs: Railway network $13.4 billion (double tracks, upgrade signaling and telecommunication system, and underpasses and overpasses to reduce 108 rail-road intersections)
  • Infrastructure Development Programs: High Speed Train $26 billion
  • Infrastructure Development Programs: Mass Rapid Transit $15.7 billion
  • Infrastructure Development Programs: Road Network $9.2 billion

On high-speed trail, from the same presentation:

BP: The high-speed rail was divided into two phases. The Bangkok Post on March 20, 2013:

The government will select just one firm from all bidders to run four high-speed train lines, probably by the third quarter of the year, Transport Minister Chadchat Sittipunt said on Wednesday.

The first four lines to be put to bids will run from Bangkok to Pattaya, Phitsanulok, Nakhon Ratchasima and Hua Hin.

Once it is running, the eastern train to Pattaya will be extended to Rayong and probably Chanthaburi and Trat. Long range plans call for other extensions as well. The northern train will be further built from Phitsanulok to Chiang Mai; Nong Khai is already planned to be the eventual terminus of the Northeast route from Nakhon Ratchasima, and the line to Hua Hin will go further south to Padang Besar in Songkhla province, at the Malaysia border.

The Bangkok Post on March 23, 2013:

According to the Transport Ministry, the first phase of the four high-speed routes will run from Bangkok to Phitsanulok (342 kilometres), Nakhon Ratchasima (256 km), Pattaya (187 km) and Hua Hin (225 km).

In phase two of the high-speed rail network, routes will extend to Chiang Mai in the North, Nong Khai in the Northeast, Rayong and probably Chanthaburi and Trat in the East and Padang Besar in Songkhla in the South.

Then in January, BP blogged about high speed rail:

*On government sites, cost-benefit analysis show the routes will make a return – some of these studies are from under the previous government – but BP is a little skeptical on the number of passengers they expect. Nevertheless, we are not looking at seven years in reality because of planning; it is more like 12-15 years. BP’s preferred choice would be to more promptly build one line first. That is from Bangkok to Rayong (Eastern Seaboard). It is basically from the new airport to Rayong which is a distance of around 220km (new airport to central Bangkok central will be covered by the current Airport Link mass transit system). This route passes through Chachoengsao, Chonburi, Pattaya, and Rayong. This route makes sense for a number of reasons: (1) short enough distance so there is no plane option currently, (2) will be good for tourism (you can go from airport to Pattaya in 30 minutes on a safe form of transport), and (3) many businesses located in Chonburi and Rayong (i.e Eastern seaboard and other industrial estates including Mathaphut) they will have a convenient and safe form of transport to Bangkok, Chonburi etc.

The whole trip would take around 75 minutes. This route just makes sense. It is first route likely to be built. New feasibility studies are underway already and the plans seem most advanced compared to the other three routes.

For the other three  routes, BP is skeptical. Unfortunately, little of the analysis BP has read has convinced BP either way. CSFB who have been widely quoted are particularly pessimistic on high-speed rail. Major problem BP has with CSFB analysis is they focus on comparing rail with flights and from end-to-end only. For example, they don’t look at Bangkok to Rayong route as there are no flights (yes, they ignore this route completely in payback period calculations!). Or when looking at the Bangkok-Chiang Mai line, they only focus on Bangkok-Chiang Mai passengers. Problem with this is the train will stop in many major cities between Bangkok-Chiang Mai including Ayuthaya, Lopburi,Nakhon Sawan, Phichit etc. There are no airport options to those cities and you are limited to buses or mini-vans for public transport options. Nevertheless, for BP, think it would be smarter for the government to devote complete focus to building the Bangkok-Rayong route first.

BP: For the 2 trillion Baht infrastructure plan, the criticism was directed at the necessity of high speed rail – as the court talked about too – and the funding. The Constitutional Court in March ruled against the government, causing the collapse of the infrastructure plan.

Now, at the end of last month, the junta approved a 2.4 trillion baht infrastructure plan as per the Bangkok Post:

The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) recently approved a 2.4-trillion-baht infrastructure development plan covering dual-track railways, electric trains, highways and water and air transport.

BP: This plan was different from the Yingluck one as didn’t include high-speed rail, but it did include water and air transport.

Then, a few days later, the junta approved two high-speed rail routes per the AP:

The junta approved 741.46 billion baht ($23.3 billion) to build two high-speed train routes that will connect Thailand’s industrialized eastern seaboard with its northern and the northeastern borders, Transport Ministry permanent secretary Soithip Traisuth said.

The junta’s high-speed trains will travel at 160 kilometers (99 miles) per hour, slower than proposed by the ousted government, and will eventually “provide links to the north to China and Laos and down to Malaysia and Singapore,” said Soithip, who is also the acting transport minister.

China has deepened economic ties with many Southeast Asia countries despite tensions over Beijing’s claims to most of the South China Sea. Rail links that extend deep into the region would boost trade and other commerce with China, the world’s No. 2 economy.

The construction of the two routes, from Nong Khai in the northeast and Chiang Khong in the north, will start in 2015 and should be completed by 2021.

BP: This appears to be Phase 1 and the routes are per below:


Source: Edited version from Bangkok Post graphic. Original available from here.

BP:  It is clear that China and freight are the main reasons behind these routes, but it is still surprising that not more emphasis is on passengers with neither route going through Bangkok. BP will just repeat that. Neither route goes through Bangkok. One assumes in the future that Bangkok will be included, but it is somewhat remarkable given the talk in the past that the plans would not have enough passengers. The previous four routes that have been scrapped all went through Bangkok, but the two new routes do not.

Veera in the Bangkok Post is puzzled where all the critics have gone. Key excerpt:

Academics and educational institutions such as Thailand Research and Development Institute should carry on with their usual in-depth analysis and criticism of government projects as they did with previous governments.

I am puzzled as to why the TDRI is so silent over the NCPO’s endorsement last week of the multi-billion baht infrastructure development projects, especially the development of two high-speed dual track trains for two routes — the Nong Khai-Korat-Saraburi, Laem Chabang-Map Ta Phut route, which is 737 kilometres long, and the Den Chai-Ban Pachi-Laem Chabang route, which is 655 kilometres long. Both projects are estimated to cost about 740 billion baht.

The TDRI was critical of the Yingluck government’s high-speed train projects, saying they were not cost effective and would require at least nine million passengers a year to stay afloat.

How about the NCPO-approved dual-track high-speed train projects with a price tag of 740 billion baht? Are they cost-effective? Can the service be affordable by, for instance, middle income-earners? Will they require nine million passengers per year to stay afloat?

BP: Indeed. TDRI and co have gone all silent yet they were very critical of the high-speed rail project when Yingluck proposed it…..

Btw, FWIW, BP still views the Bangkok to Rayong route as being the most sensible route to start…