Light rail, roads to lead overhaul

Rail expansion, new roads and port improvements will be the first projects to be completed under the government's massive 2-trillion-baht infrastructure investment programme.

  • Published: 28/03/2013 at 12:00 AM
  • Newspaper section: topstories

Kittiratt Na-Ranong, the deputy prime minister and finance minister, said clear progress should be made in new light-rail mass transit routes in Greater Bangkok as well as roads creating a new East-West corridor spanning the country from Laos and Cambodia to Myanmar within three years.

Mr Kittiratt and Transport Minister Chadchat Sittipunt, in an exclusive interview with the Bangkok Post, said the infrastructure investments represented another pillar in the government's strategy to rebalance the economy, close the income gap and raise living standards for the public.

The government will unveil details of the programme in parliament today, including specifics covering the thousands of projects to receive funding under the goal of strengthening the country's transport infrastructure, cutting logistics costs and supporting "linkages" within the country and across the region.

The programme will be financed under a decree authorising the government to borrow 2 trillion baht over the next seven years, with repayment made over the next five decades.

Opposition politicians have criticised the spending bill as unnecessary, saying new public investment should be financed through the annual budget process.

Korn Chatikavanij, a deputy leader of the Democrat Party and a former finance minister, has argued the bill potentially violates the constitution and could undermine economic stability.

Sufficient room is available within the budget to fund new infrastructure without the need for a special law that bypasses parliamentary checks-and-balances, he argued.

Kittiratt Na-Ranong (Photo by Pattarachai Preechapanich)

Mr Kittiratt played down these concerns, saying each of the projects would be subject to strict oversight in a process open to the public.

Many projects have been in the planning stages for years by various state agencies.

"The high-speed train route from Bangkok to Chiang Mai will not pass Uttaradit, the home province of [deputy finance minister] Tanusak Lek-uthai," Mr Kittiratt said pointedly, referring to allegations of heavy lobbying by government politicians to benefit from the infrastructure investments.

Construction contracts would be subject to international bids, he said, with participation expected from companies based in countries where bribery of foreign officials is a criminal offence.

Thailand also will enter talks to sign the Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA) under the World Trade Organisation, which commits signatories to transparency and non-discrimination in public purchases of goods and services, Mr Kittiratt said.

Transport Minister Chadchat said each project would be subject to vetting by the National Economic and Social Development Board as well as detailed assessments on the impact on the environment and public health.

He said such scrutiny could result in some projects not being completed within the seven-year timeframe of the financing decree.

"[Future] governments will be able to follow the masterplan if they agree with it. It does not mean we are locking ourselves in. Actually, many of these projects have been in the planning stages for over a decade, but were never realised due to budget constraints," Mr Chadchat said.

The two-trillion-baht programme will allow policymakers to synchronise various projects for maximum efficiency and utilisation, creating true "multi-modal" linkages, he said.

Mr Kittiratt said haphazard infrastructure development has proved costly in the past, pointing to initiatives such as the Airport Rail Link and how the system is poorly integrated with Bangkok's skytrain and subway systems.

Mr Chadchat said rail expansion would result in a new 1.45-metre international standard gauge track laid together with the country's existing one-metre gauge rail lines, which would mean faster cargo transit across the country at lower cost.

"When we talk of connectivity, the primary goal is improving it within the country, and supporting provincial growth. The secondary goal is to build up links with neighbouring countries and the region," Mr Chadchat said.

He said the public can expect to see electric train routes linking Bangkok to suburbs and road expansion to the east and south within the next three years.

Three light rail projects that should begin bidding in 2014 are the Green Line extension running from Mor Chit to Saphan Mai and Ku Kot, the Pink Line from Khae Rai in western Bangkok to Min Buri, and a section of the Orange Line from the Thailand Cultural Centre.

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