Chinese rail project in Thailand is ready to go, official says

2 September 2015 | By Rod Sweet 0 Comments

China is set to clinch a deal to build a major railway in Thailand, Chinese state media say, but it will be slower than originally planned.

“A 867km, double track, standard gauge line will connect Nong Khai on the Laotian border to Bangkok, and also to Map Ta Phut industrial estate in Rayong province on Thailand’s south eastern seabord”

After six rounds of negotiation both sides now plan to sign an inter-governmental framework agreement on the $10bn China-Thailand Railway project in the early part of this month, and work will start next month, an official from state-owned China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC) has said.

Zhu Xijun, general manager of the Southeast Asia Company of CRCC, said the project will be finished in three years, and will bring Chinese tourists to Thailand and Thai agricultural projects to China, state news agency Xinhua reported.

But since Thailand does not border China, such a vision would require a railway through Laos, Thailand’s neighbour to the north.

Negotiations over a proposed $7.2bn high-speed rail link from China through Laos have been dragging on for years.

China’s bigger plan is to connect its rail system to the rest of southeast Asia by building a railway from Kunming, in south-western Yunnan Province, through Laos and down Thailand’s long peninsular south to Singapore.

China’s bigger plan is to connect its rail system to the rest of southeast Asia, but Laos is the missing link (Radio Free Asia)

Meanwhile, in need of infrastructure modernisation, Thailand has been impatient to develop its own part of the link, and in December 2014 the country’s National Legislative Assembly approved a draft memorandum of understanding with China to jointly build the $10.64bn rail project, financed by a loan from China.

The project would see a 867km, double track, standard gauge line connecting Nong Khai on the Laotian border to Bangkok, and also to Map Ta Phut industrial estate in Rayong province on Thailand’s south eastern seabord.

It has been called the biggest rail development project in Thailand for 120 years.

But negotiations turned rocky when the Thai government demanded lower interest rates on the 20-year loan and objected Chinese firms managing the new lines.

Since then, however, the government has signalled that it wants to move ahead with the scheme.

Thinking of the hoped-for link to Kunming through Laos, CRCC’s Zhu Xijun said people would be able to travel between Kunming and Bangkok by train for about $100 (3600 Thai Baht or 700 yuan), which is half to a third the cost of an airline ticket.

“It is the biggest rail development project in Thailand for 120 years.”

He said that moving freight by rail costs only one ninth of what it costs to move it by air.

According to Xinhua, the an eventual China-Thailand railway is expected to bring two million more Chinese tourists to Thailand every year and will facilitate Thailand’s agricultural exports to China.

The parties have already agreed to keep train speeds to 180km/h, not 250km/h as was previously planned, to keep costs down.

Map: China’s bigger plan is to connect its rail system to the rest of southeast Asia, but Laos is the missing link (Radio Free Asia)