The military government of Thailand yesterday approved the construction of a 754-km rail line between Bangkok and the northern city of Chiang Mai, and a 574-km route between the capital and the Cambodian border, which passes through Thailand’s main industrial provinces.Â
The projects, which will be the country’s first high-speed links, will complement a separate Chinese scheme to build a medium-speed network.
The signing ceremony is to be held in Tokyo.Â
Once the deal is agreed, Japanese engineers will start surveying the route, a project expected to take six months.Â
Thai transport minister Prajin Juntong told reporters that Japan will start construction of the lines in spring next year, with completion set for 2019.
As well as the high-speed (250km/h) lines, Thailand will co-operate with China on an $11bn, 160km/h network that would link it with Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia.Â
The rail schemes are part of a plan to modernise the country’s infrastructure and spur economic growth by stimulating demand and reducing the transactional cost of business.Â
Last year, the economy recorded little or no growth owing to weak demand for the country’s exports, combined with political turmoil that followed the coup against the government of Yingluck Shinawatra.
This year the forecast is for 3% growth, which is sluggish by regional standards.Â
As well as the Japanese high-speed line, the Thai cabinet approved a $40bn strategic plan for public-private partnerships, mainly in infrastructure and public transportation services, which had been drawn up by the Boston Consulting Group.
This will include urban mass-transit systems, toll roads, ports, inland container depots and fibre-optic telecoms networks.
Photograph: Hua Hin Railway Station, Thailand. The country’s subsidised passenger rail system is used heavily, but extra freight-rail capacity could help offset heavy truck traffic (Clay Gilliland/Wikimedia Commons)