by ANDREW J WOOD

The proposed China-Thailand Railway is set to have enormous benefits to Thailand.

BANGKOK: Thailand’s cabinet this week approved a draft contract for the construction and design of the first phase of the country’s high-speed railway project with China.

The 252 km high-speed railway will link the Thai capital of Bangkok and the northeastern province of Nakhon Ratchasima and is scheduled to be operational by 2021.

The Thai cabinet and National Legislative Assembly, have approved the first phase of the new railway, once all phases are completed, it is set to catapult Thailand’s trade and tourism with its neighbours.

The project will be a legacy project. Laying the foundations along the new Silk Road for a comprehensive modern rail network that will help meet the demands of domestic and international cross border traffic. From a domestic or regional perspective, the project is set to substantially benefit Thailand in the long run.

Poor railways in Thailand have proved insufficient in supporting economic growth in the country’s remote and less developed areas.

The Chinese Embassy in Bangkok announced that construction work is slated to begin as soon as October, once China and Thailand sign two contracts next month that cover design and supervision expenses.

The two contracts will be signed during Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s visit to China on 4-5 September, 2017.

China will provide expertise and supervision, while Thailand will provide equipment and materials. At the request of Thailand, China will also use a number of Thai engineers and architects to help transfer expertise in maintaining, operating and managing high-speed railways.

1️⃣ The first phase will link the Thai capital, Bangkok, with the northeastern city of Nakhom Ratchasima, which is set to start operation in four years time. The construction of the 252 km stretch of the 250 kph high speed rail project is estimated to cost THB 179 billion (USD $5.2 billion) all of which is to be raised by the Thai government.

2️⃣ The project’s second phase will cross borders and connect to the China-Laos rail line, which is currently under construction.

This second phase will run from Nakhon Ratchasima to Nong Khai on the Thai-Laos border to connect with the China-Laos railway to form the main line from Bangkok to Kunming.

3️⃣ The third phase of the project will connect China’s southern city of Kunming with Bangkok and Vientiane, the capital of Laos, by high-speed rail. An 867 km dual-track railway, with 1.435 metre standard gauge and trains operating at top speeds of 180 kph.

The railway is part of China’s ‘Belt and Road’ initiative. The Belt and Road Initiative refers to the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, aiming at building a trade and infrastructure network connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along the ancient trade routes of the Silk Road.

The line will link the Thai-Laos border to Bangkok as well as Thailand’s main deep-sea port in eastern Thailand. A boon for cargo and cruise ships.

Thai PM General Prayut Chan o-cha is cognisant that by connecting Thailand’s poor northeastern Nong Khai province; the capital city Bangkok and the eastern Rayong province, the railway will play a pivotal role in boosting trade, industry and tourism, leading to greater investment and development opportunities thereby reducing the wealth gap that has fueled political turmoil in Thailand.

But more than that I envisage that the Pan-Asian railway network will strengthen Thailand’s position to be the hub for regional rail connectivity as well as an important centre of ASEAN cross border traffic not only people but also cargo.

Add to this the enormous benefits of the increase trade and tourism with China and Laos and in one master stroke Thailand has positioned itself to not only be a key player in ASEAN but the engine that drives trade across the members borders. With Thailand’s planned East-West rail link and the development of the Eastern Economic Corridor, all points on the Pan-Asia railway network compass, centre on Thailand.

Thailand’s military government has made rail development and construction its top transport priority.

The government wants to double the tracks and modernise the country’s 120-year-old railway networks by increasing the existing 4,000 kilometres of rail infrastructure to 10,000 kilometres over the next decade.

In the past, Thailand’s ageing railways have been used predominantly for passengers, but the planned expansion will accommodate greater use of railway for cargo. The Transport Ministry has estimated that by 2022, five per cent of cargo nationwide will move by rail. From Thailand’s perspective it will facilitate increased export of Thailand’s farm produce, notably rice and rubber, to China.

China is Thailand’s largest export and trade partner. With the new railway making transport more convenient, bilateral trade as well as Chinese investment in Thailand is expected to surge.

About the author: Andrew J Wood was born in Yorkshire England, he is a former professional hotelier. Now a Skalleague; freelance travel writer and director of WDA Travel Co. Ltd and its subsidiary, Thailand by Design (tours/travel/MICE). To follow him click http://www.ajwoodbkk.com