S44 fast-track mulled for Thai-Sino rail
Aim is to start work this year, Somkid says
The government is considering invoking Section 44 of the interim charter to tackle stumbling blocks for the long-delayed Thai-Chinese high-speed railway project linking Bangkok and Nakhon Ratchasima to enable construction to start this year.
Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak said the Thai-Chinese high-speed train project has been long-delayed thanks to a spate of technical problems and legal issues.
"The government may need to ask for the National Council for Peace and Order's permission to invoke Section 44 to speed up the project's construction," he said. "And Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha himself has ordered that construction on the project commence this year."
Mr Somkid said the issues hindering the Thai-Chinese rail project must be addressed before Gen Prayut visits China in September to attend the 9th BRICS summit. BRICS is an acronym for the combined economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith said the ministry is consulting Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam about which aspects of the rail project should be sped up with Section 44.
He said the ministry will finalise details of the project before asking for the cabinet's approval next month.
After the 18th meeting of a Thai-Sino panel recently held in Bangkok, Mr Arkhom said pending the cabinet's approval, the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) in July will hire a party from China to design the 252.5km rail track and subsequently call bidding for the 179-billion-baht project.
Almost all of the details of the joint development were worked out at that meeting, attended by Wang Xiaotao, vice-chairman of China's National Development and Reform Commission, the minister said.
The Bangkok-Nakhon Ratchasima route is part of a scheme which will, upon its completion, be extended with a 354km rail line from Nakhon Ratchasima to Nong Khai, which borders Laos. Looking closer at the Bangkok-Nakhon Ratchasima project, the SRT has agreed to divide it into four sections.
The ministry has finished drafting the terms of reference of the first 3.5km section linking Klang Dong and Pang Asok in Pak Chong district, Nakhon Ratchasima. The SRT expects to call bidding for this section between July and August.
Another three sections are an 11km route from Pak Chong to Sikhiu district; an 119km section between Nakhon Ratchasima and Kaeng Khoi district, Saraburi; and the 119km section from Kaeng Khoi to Bangkok.
Meanwhile, Mr Arkhom said Thailand and Japan are now studying the feasibility of the Tak-Mukdahan line, known as the upper East-West corridor.
He said the State Railways of Thailand has already completed a feasibility study for the Ban Phai (Khon Kaen)-Nakhon Phanom section and Nakhon Sawan-Maesot section of the plan. Japan has reported the feasibility study for a high-speed rail project linking Bangkok and Chiang Mai is expected to go to the Transport Ministry by the end of this year. But Mr Arkhom said the study has found the investment costs to be relatively high.