The Thai government will open bidding for the first phase of a hi-speed rail project linking Bangkok to Pattaya. Under the plan, the first four routes will cover 250 kilometers linking Bangkok to Phitsanulok, Nakhon Ratchasima and Hua Hin as well as to Pattaya. Construction on all the four routes will begin at the same time with the aim of opening the new track network in 2018. Government approval will be necessary for the international bidding process expected to be completed next year. China, Japan, South Korea and France have all expressed strong interest in bidding for the routes. The plan aims to boost the country’s economy by reducing energy costs by 400 billion baht as Thailand focuses more on rail travel at the expense of road transport. At the moment, rail accounts for only two percent of all traffic and roads for 80 percent. The price of oil internationally is expected to double within the next five years with likely big increases in the cost of petrol. Pansak Vinyaratn, chief adviser to the prime minister, said that hi-speed trains are necessary to ensure solid growth of the country’s economy as Thailand would otherwise lose competitiveness in the long run. Second-phase construction would mean that Bangkok would link by hi-speed rail to Chiang Mai, Nong Khai, Rayong and Hat Yai by 2022. The new railway networks will serve both passengers and cargo, including faster transport of agricultural goods which tend to deteriorate if carried long distances by slow lorries. The details of the new routes, including the exact location of stations, have not yet been decided. Pattaya’s tourism industry is expected to gain hugely with the arrival of a 20 minute fast train service from Bangkok or Suvarnabhumi to the seaside resort. A City Hall source told Pattaya Today, “The current rail station is far out of the city in east Pattaya, so we are hoping that the railhead for the new hi-speed trains will be nearer the downtown area.” Another suggestion is to build a monorail track to take passengers directly from the hi-speed train to the centres of Pattaya and Jomtien. The latest rail project will be a huge step forward in enabling Pattaya to triple its receipts from tourism by the end of the decade or soon afterwards. Other infrastructure improvements already agreed to or in the pipeline are a beach reclamation project, more by-pass roads and tunnels, a better waste disposal system, increased supplies of potable water and several “green” projects. Critics of the scheme caution that the Pattaya authorities must ensure that the infrastructure improvements are in place before the deluge of visitors expected once the hi-speed train is operational. “Thousands may arrive and depart by train but they will need to use the roads during their stay. The traffic queues and pollution could easily get a lot worse if the timing is wrong,” said a prominent Pattaya businessman and estate agent. With the advent of the Asean Economic Community in 2015, a free-trade area of 10 countries in the region, economists say that the hi-speed rail plans will enhance Thailand as the logistics hub of South East Asia with all the basic infrastructure such as inland transport and rail and deep seaports to carry the expected increase in freight across national frontiers. Also scheduled for completion in 2018 is Dawei port in Myanmar, a deep water facility with major Thai funding, which will speed up the transport of goods between Asean countries and beyond to India.
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