Thailand’s cabinet on Tuesday authorized a 12 billion baht-budget increase (nearly U.S. $400 million) for a high-speed railway being built by Chinese state firms between northeastern Nakhon Ratchasima province and the capital Bangkok, a government spokeswoman said.
The additional money was needed for technical changes to accommodate a faster model of train on the 253 km- (157.2 mile-) long line, she said. The $5.8 billion project, originally slated for completion in 2023, is now expected to be ready in a little more than five years, she added.
“The cabinet agreed to adjust up the funds and change the contract to construct tracks, electrical and mechanical systems, acquire electric trains, and train personnel, under Contract 2.3 of the cooperation project of the governments of Thailand and China, in the amount of 12,075 million baht,” spokeswoman Trisulee Traisoranakul told reporters after a cabinet meeting on Tuesday.
Thailand has agreed to purchase a more advanced Fuxing Hao series bullet train instead of the Hexie Hao series model it originally planned to buy, and this would require different track specifications, she said.
Last week, Thai highway department chief Apirat Chaiwongnoi announced that earth work and a rail base for the first 3.5-kilometer (2.2-mile) segment of the railroad had been completed. This section will now be handed over to the State Railway of Thailand, which will work with Chinese partners to begin laying railway track, Apirat said.
On Aug. 29, 2017, the Thai government signed an agreement with China’s National Development and Reform Commission to build the 253 km-long railroad.
According to the agreement, China Railway International Co. Ltd. and China Railway Design Corporation will design and construct the track and electrical and mechanical systems, and undertake to train Thai workers on the project.
Thailand’s highway department and other local companies have been involved in civil engineering work on the project.
In 2017, then-Transportation Minister Akom Tempitayapaisit said his ministry expected to run six trains and transport 5,300 commuters a day upon completion of the high-speed line.
Polling local residents
Meanwhile, Thai officials are currently conducting an opinion poll of residents in an around the northeastern provinces of Khon Kaen and Nong Khai to gauge their views on a high-speed rail line extending beyond Nakhon Ratchasima, to Nong Khai on the Thai-Laos border.
Beijing wants to connect what would be a 356 kilometer- (221.2 mile-) long Nakhon Ratchasima-Nong Khai rail line to its One Belt One Road rail project in Laos, which would then connect to Kunming in southwest China. OBOR is Beijing’s ambitious program to build a global network of ports, highways, railways, bridges and power plants to connect China to markets abroad and countries that can supply the world’s most populous nation with resources.
If built, this line would be part of China’s planned 3,000-km (1,864-mile) pan-Asian railway network, in which Chinese rail lines would extend all the way to the tip of the Malay Peninsula, linking Beijing to Singapore.
In April 2019, Thailand signed a memorandum of cooperation with Laos and China on a new bridge for a railway across the Mekong River, prompting speculation that this proposed high-speed rail line linking the three countries might come to fruition.
In April last year, Reuters news agency reported that Thailand’s government said it was “making progress” on this much-delayed high-speed Thai-Chinese rail line, for which talks began as early as in 2014.
The State Railway of Thailand said it expected to complete the opinion poll of residents in and around Khon Kaen and Nong Khai by November.
However, a decision has yet to be made on extending the Bangkok- Nakhon Ratchasima line to Nong Khai.
BenarNews contacted officials at the State Railway of Thailand for details but they didn't immediately return phone calls.
Separately, the State Railway of Thailand last October signed an agreement with a consortium that includes a Chinese state-owned company to build a $7.4 billion high-speed rail line that would connect three airports and the Eastern Economic Corridor to the east of Bangkok.
This 220-km line would link Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi and Don Muang international airports to U-Tapao airport in Pattaya, a town on the eastern seaboard that is popular with tourists.
Last month, the State Railway of Thailand said that this $7.4 billion rail project would be delayed due to budgetary issues, according to a report by RailwayTechnology, a news site on technology in the global railway industry.
When and if the rail line is built, it would intersect with the Bangkok-Nakhon Ratchasima line.
Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.