Two High-Speed Rail Lines Get Nod, But Neither Will Come to Chiang Mai

 | Thu 31 Jul 2014 00:16 ICT

CityNews – The ruling junta has approved two high-speed rail projects intended to link Thailand with southern China, reports said today – but both bypass Chiang Mai.

A model of a high-speed train on display at an exhibition last year. Photo: Bangkok Post.

Construction is scheduled to start next year on a 737km route from Nong Khai province to the Map Ta Phut industrial estate in eastern Rayong, and a 655km route from Chiang Khong in northern Chiang Rai to central Ayutthaya province, reports said. The routes should be completed by 2021, at a cost of 741.4 billion baht.

Permanent secretary for transport Soithip Traisuth told the Bangkok Post that the maximum speed of the trains would have to be reduced to 160 kilometres per hour from 200kph.

A study would be carried out to explore ways to bring the construction cost down from about 500-600 million baht per kilometre to a range of 350-400 million baht, she said.

“The high-speed train dual track standards will be maintained even though the maximum speed of the trains will have to be lowered from 200kph to 160kph. This is to allow a possible shift to a higher speed train system at a later date after more investment in the future,” the Post quoted Soithip as saying.

It also cited a source who said the routes were in line with a proposal from China, which wants to connect its southwestern provinces with Southeast Asia and gain more influence in the region.

The decision to bypass Chiang Mai completely has raised eyebrows. One analyst, who did not wish to be named, told CityNews that it appeared to be a typical case of “patronage politics” aimed at rewarding supporters and cutting out political enemies.

Chiang Mai is “Shinawatra country”, the analyst added, referring to the strong support in the province for former prime ministers Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra, who were both deposed by the military.

CityNews reported earlier this month that the military government had approved a high-speed train project that would cut the journey time from Chiang Mai to Bangkok to just three hours. The future of that project is not immediately clear.