Friday's announcement that Thailand and France are expected to sign a memorandum of understanding next month on developing high-speed rail here and modernising the State Railway of Thailand's operations and services was a smart play by a Pheu Thai government anxious to win public support for the controversial 2 trillion-baht infrastructure project. The French have a proven performance record in the field of high-speed rail, and just as important, a reputation for stringent safety standards. France's TGV high-speed rail system was developed in the 1970s. Centred in Paris, it has expanded across France and into neighbouring countries on both high-speed and conventional lines. In April 2007 a TGV test train set the record for the fastest wheeled train, reaching 574.8kph.
There had been some speculation that Thailand might look to China as its main partner in upgrading the rail system, a move that would have invited unneeded difficulty in persuading parliament to pass the loan package the government is requesting for the infrastructure projects. In July 2011, a bullet train crash in the southeastern city of Wenzhou killed 40 people and injured 200. A December 2011 report authorised by the Chinese government concluded that the crash was the result of design flaws and sloppy management, and cited "missteps" by 54 officials.
Frederic Cuvillier, the French minister delegate for transport, maritime and fishing affairs, said his country's agreement with Thailand would emphasise mutual cooperation on transport development and that the French private sector would be encouraged to provide technical assistance for the project. He noted that as yet there has been no decision on the private sector's role in developing the project, as well as its rules and regulations. This is an important point.
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