Getting set for the subway
You’ve seen the little station entrances for Bangkok’s new underground popping up around town — here’s a progress report
Story by HEAMAKARN SRICHARATCHANYA
Pictures by YINGYONG UN-ANONGRAK
Stepping down from the entrance to Thailand’s first subway, the MRT Chaloem Ratchamongkhon blue line, is like entering a whole new world. Once home only to cables and water pipes, this subterranean space is now being prepared for a human invasion.
Bangkok people have waited nearly a decade for the subway, and there’s just another year to go — opening day is scheduled for Songkran Day 2004.
"We want to give Bangkok residents the subway as a New Year present," said Prapat Chongsanguan, governor of the Mass Rapid Transit Authority (MRTA).
The project is now 80 percent complete, he said. In fact, as far as construction work is concerned, the building of the 20-kilometre tunnels and components such as rails and escalators, from Hua Lamphong to Bang Sue, is virtually finished and the workforce is just doing final touch ups like finishing the floors.
But, hold the champagne. The Bangkok Metro Company Ltd (BMCL), which is in charge of the operating system and has a 25-year concession, has much left to do.
a large number of people or things arriving somewhere
a period of ten years
almost or very nearly
the right to do, sell or operate something
a feeling of expecting or hoping that something good will happen
well known for being bad
to get rid of something not wanted
the solid underground base of a building or other structure
the quality of being steady and not changing or being disturbed in any way
In any case — the line runs on electricity and the first train will arrive in September. The governor hopes to run tests without passengers for six months before paying passengers start using the system. The subway trains will travel at about the same speed as the skytrain, 35 kilometres per hour, although trains and tracks are rated up to 80kph. Travel from the first station to the last — Bang Sue to Hua Lamphong — will take about half an hour. That will be on a three-wagon train running every four to six minutes during normal hours, or every two to four minutes at peak hours.
One subway car can carry about 30,000 passengers per hour. The first train will start at 5am and the system will shut each midnight.
Like the skytrain, the subway fare will vary by distance, from 14 to 36 baht. The governor, however, feels there should be a 15 percent discount for the first year, which would put fares at a minimum of 12 baht, with an end-to-end trip costing 34 baht.
"We’ll set a lower price than the Bangkok Transit System (BTS) for similar distances. That’s because construction costs were lower."
Prapat said the government absorbed a hefty chunk of the construction costs, with taxes accounting for 90 billion baht out of the total cost of 115 billion baht.
There is a certain expectancy that the new underground will lift the city’s mood by easing the notorious travelling woes. But many wonder why the project took so long.
"People may think making tunnels is difficult, but actually it is not. The real difficulty was working along with the underground public utilities, keeping streets above open and disposing of the soil taken from the tunnels," said Chukiat Photayanuvat, director of the MRTA’s construction department.
Mr Chukiat said the first problem was perhaps the hardest. Maps that were supposed to show the location of water pipes, telephone lines, disposal pipes and underground cables were not accurate. There were times when diggers hit water pipes and technicians had to hurry to repair the damage.
The soil disposal problem was solved by using what was dug out as landfill for the MRTA’s office and other projects.
There were numerous minor problems. Some roads were too narrow for the tunnels. Most of the route contains two narrow tunnels lying side by side, for trains going in opposite directions.
However, not all of Bangkok’s roads were wide enough to handle the dual track tunnels below. In some cases the only option was to build tunnels on top of each other instead of side by side. "Vertical" tunnels are on the route from Sam Yan to Silom and Lumphini.
Obviously these tunnels have had to be dug deeper than the side-by-side tracks. The regular tracks are at a depth of 15-25 metres, roughly equal to the height of a three- to five-storey building. The stacked tunnels are up to 30 metres below ground. That meant locating the three stations involved four storeys deep.
Most stations have three floors — subway, concourse and platform. The subway is for retail stores while the concourse is where ticket booths are located. The bottom platform is where passengers enter the train.
The four-storey stations are a little different. The first floor is the concourse and the third floor houses engine rooms. The train platforms are on the second and fourth floors.
Silom station was the toughest to build, said the governor. The foundation posts of the Thai-Japanese flyover were so long that workmen had to cut them in order to build the subway station beneath. That means the cut piles are resting on top of the subway station. There’s no need to worry about stability, said Prapat, because the station is a firm platform.
The MRTA governor hopes to introduce a special linking ticket that can be used on the subway, skytrain and public buses. The subway and skytrain systems meet up at three key stops — Chatuchak, Asoke and Saladaeng. But the idea is awaiting approval from the Office of the Commission for the Management of Land Traffic. It’s unlikely that the scheme will be ready when the subway opens next year.
Said the governor: "We’re not sure how to charge the fares. We may base ticket price on time — one ticket for any kind of transportation within a specified period — an hour or two, say. Alternatively, we may divide Bangkok into zones and one ticket could allow you to travel within a zone using any means of transportation. Passengers would have to buy a new ticket if they entered a new zone."
The transfer system would increase the numbers using public transport as a whole, he feels.
"The BTS has about 300,000 passengers a day while the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority could have some 100,000 passengers on the subway. With linking tickets, there could be up to a million passengers altogether."
He believes Bangkok residents could find the system so user-friendly that they’ll leave their cars at home.