Transport Minister Chadchat Sittipunt insists the broad economic returns from high-speed railways will make their construction worthwhile.
He was responding to Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) researcher Sumet Ongkittikul, who warned on Thursday that the government would never break even on its planned high-speed rail projects.
His concerns were echoed by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong, who called on the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB) to conduct a benefits study into the project.
If it is not worth the investment, the government should instead fund other worthwhile projects, Mr Kittiratt said.
Mr Chadchat, however, said the government had announced its high-speed railway projects in parliament, so it was now obliged to implement them.
He explained that it was impossible for electric railway projects to break even through fare revenues alone. However, like highway projects, they lead to urbanisation, community and business development, and job creation, which creates a much larger tax base for the government.
"People in other provinces pin high hopes on high-speed railway projects because they mean opportunities for the expansion of their businesses and communities," he said.
"This will result in more taxes for the state. The economic returns in this sense are far greater than the internal returns from fares."
The minister also encouraged officials implementing government policies to help answer public concerns.
In his warning on Thursday, Mr Sumet said high-speed railway projects would create a massive economic burden on the state.
High-speed railways elsewhere in the world require at least 3 million passengers in the first year of operation if they are to have any hope of breaking even, he said. But the high-speed rail project being proposed by the government will need at least 9 million passengers in its first year because its estimated construction cost is so high.
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- Writer: Amornrat Mahitthirook