China-Thailand High-Speed Rail Project Back On Track

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Source: www.thai-language.comThailand’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has approved a US$23 billion project to connect two high speed railways with China’s rail network by 2021.

Plans for the Thai railways show one rail will connect the town of Nong Khai, just south of Laos’s capital Vientiane, with Map Ta Phut, located to the southeast of Bangkok. This section of rail is projected to cost 392.5 billion baht (US$12.2 billion) and will run 737 kilometers. Chiang Khong, positioned along Thailand’s northern border, will be connected to Ban Phachi, in the central Ayutthaya regions slightly north of Bangkok, along a track 655 kilometers in length at an expected construction cost of 348.8 billion baht (US$10.85 billion).

Under the administration of Thailand’s previous prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, China and Thailand had reached a bilateral agreement wherein the high-speed rail projects would be partially paid for in rice, as well as through loan funding. Being part of a larger infrastructure development scheme, the project was thrown into limbo last March when a loan bill to fund the scheme was deemed unconstitutional.

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Further complications arose when Chan-ocha’s junta took over this past May, suspending more than US$62 billion worth of infrastructure projects approved by Shinawatra’s administration, until screened by the NCPO. Previous reports alleged the junta had abandoned the high-speed rail project.

The railway lines will directly link to Kunming, in China’s southern Yunnan province. Constructing these railways in Thailand is part of China’s scheme to build a 3,000km (1,860m) high-speed track stretching from Kunming to Singapore. This railway will pass through Laos, Thailand and Malaysia.

If completed, it is projected to boost the GDP of China, as well as those of the other countries involved, by US$375 billion.

Though expected to increase trade and income for all participating countries, some have described the project as “Chinese high-speed railway diplomacy,” an act to extend China’s power and influence through the use of its high-speed rail technology and expertise.

According to Geoff Wade of the College of Asia and the Pacific at the Australian National University, a new high-speed rail network could have profound effects on the economy of S.E. Asia. He writes “when the people of the mainland countries soon find, through the convenience of HSR [high-speed railways], that Kunming is their ‘closest neighbor’ but a few hours away, the Yunnan capital will gradually emerge as the hub of the Greater Mekong Region and will eventually become, in effect, the capital of mainland Southeast Asia.

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Thailand’s current rail network is old and outdated. The top speed is 50 kilometers per hour, and accidents occur frequently. A new high-speed rail network, especially one linked with China and other S.E. Asian nations, would increase Thailand’s transportation and trade capabilities substantially.

Permanent Secretary for Transport Soithip Traisuth has said urgent infrastructure projects are aimed at improving connections within the country’s transport network by providing gateways to border trade and linking key cities, seaports, airports and cargo rail transport centers.

Chinese engineers have been assisting the Thai government conduct feasibility studies and minimize projected costs. One cost reduction method is to lower the top speed at which the trains will operate. According to Soithip, “The high-speed train dual track standards will be maintained even though the maximum speed of the trains will have to be lowered from 200km/ph to 160km/ph. This is to allow a possible shift to a higher speed train system at a later date after more investment in the future.”

Construction is slated to begin next year and should be completed by 2021.

Since the NCPO seized power in May, China has acknowledged and cooperated with the new government. Furthermore, Thailand has sent a delegate to Beijing, with both sides reportedly agreeing to continue building and expanding relations. Completing these rail projects should serve to strengthen trade and economic ties between these two countries.

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4 responses to “China-Thailand High-Speed Rail Project Back On Track”

  1. Bill says:

    While it is true that the NCPO (the body running Thailand at the moment) has approved the plans to build dual track railway lines, these will NOT be high speed train lines. Rather they will be double track train lines and while speeds of trains WILL increase from the snail’s pace of present, these will not reach the kids of speeds which would qualify them as “high-speed”.

    Also the two new lines specifically mentioned in the article had nothing to do with Yingluck’s previous government as they are newly conceived, so the article is also misleading on that front.

    The academic from Australia must really have lived all his life in Australia and not be aware of the realities of SE Asia if he thinks that Kunming will effectively become the hub for mainland SE Asia. emerge as the hub of the Greater Mekong Region and “will eventually become, in effect, the capital of mainland Southeast Asia”

    • Thomas says:

      Geoff Wade, the Australian academic named as author of the comments on the regional implications of plans for “high-speed” rail construction in Thailand, has not lived all his life in Australia. For a decade or more he lived in Singapore and has a broad regional awareness of SE Asia through his research and personal contacts. His understanding of Chinese strategic intentions is to be taken seriously; whether or not the full measure of those grandiose intentions can be realized in practice may be another matter. But China is thinking big, very big, about its intended dominant role in mainland SE Asia and its ongoing influence in the near maritime region. No one, least of all Australians, should be in doubt about that.

      • KG says:

        Mr. Wade clearly does not have “a broad regional awareness of SE Asia.” How relatively backwater Kunming could supplant the much more modern and regionally interconnected Bangkok as transport and economic hub of mainland SE Asia simply through an expensive 160km/h rail line is just a daft notion. The only thing Kunming has going for it is that it is a second-tier Chinese city surrounded by third-tier towns.

  2. Bill says:

    I am sorry and it sounds like “mine is bigger than yours”, but over 10 years spent in Singapore hardly qualifies Mr Wade as an expert in such things. I spent 4 years living in Kunming, speak Chinese and have lived in Thailand for nigh on 30 years and speak fluent Thai but would not come up with such a conclusion. As KG states, the assertion that people of the mainland will see Kunming as their hub, is, as the previous writer so rightly says is “just a daft notion”.

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