Thailand’s junta revives multi-billion dollar high speed rail plan
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Thailand’s junta revives multi-billion dollar high speed rail plan

Thailand’s military government approved a US$75 billion infrastructure plan this week. The plan targets the country’s ageing rail system, as well as Bangkok’s light rail, and an overhaul of the ports. The plan includes funding for high-speed rail lines that would eventually connect Thailand with China and some neighboring countries. The government also plans to invest in expanding dual-track rail lines, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The military’s plan takes an eight-year approach to improving infrastructure, and includes plans for a high-speed rail that would link Thailand to China, Laos, Malaysia, and Singapore, the Associated Press reported. The government will also invest in public transportation to help alleviate traffic congestion in Bangkok, exapnding national highways to improve trade opportunities, and boosting the capacity of ports and airports. The military government suspended expansion plans at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport last month, saying it needed to evaluate the plans before moving ahead with improvements.

Transport Ministry permanent secretary Soithip Traisuth said $23 billion have been allotted to building two high-speed rail lines expected to be completed by 2021, according to the Associated Press. The high-speed lines will travel at 160 kilometers, or 99 miles, per hour. This is slower than the high-speed train lines proposed by the country’s former government before they were ousted by the junta in the May 22 coup.

Thailand’s rail lines in particular have long been in need of an upgrade. Numerous derailments in 2013 eventually forced closures on the Chiang Mai-Bangkok route, a popular line for tourists traveling between these major cities. Former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government had proposed a high-speed Chiang Mai-Bangkok line, but it was not included in the junta’s proposal and no comment was given on it from the current government, according to the AP.

Past plans for improving the rail system were either scuttled or delayed for political reasons, including a bill passed under Yingluck. The Wall Street Journal noted that the bill would have allowed her government to borrow $63 billion to invest in road and rail infrastructure, including the development of a high-speed rail network that reached to Singapore and China. The bill was eventually knocked down by the Constitutional Court because “it didn’t follow good fiscal practices and would have allowed Ms. Yingluck’s government to bypass parliamentary scrutiny,” according to the WSJ.

The ambitious infrastructure plan is one of many initiatives the junta has undertaken in the months since it claimed power and promised to “restore happiness” to the country.