The Kunming-Vientiane high-speed train project, scheduled for operations in 2021, is expected to stimulate service industry growth in the Northeast, with at least 2 million Chinese visitors forecast to flood the region every year.
Swat Teerattananukulchai, chairman of the Udon Thani Chamber of Commerce, said the new high-speed rail network linking Kunming and Vientiane will usher in big changes to the service sector in the Northeast, with new hotels, restaurants and other services planned to serve foreign visitors, particularly from China.
He projected as many as 2 million Chinese visitors will come to Thailand after the railway starts running in 2021.
"There are 500,000 Chinese visiting Laos that do not come to the Northeast because of the absence of supporting facilities and the lack of transport infrastructure between Laos and Thailand," said Mr Swat.
He said Udon Thani airport is being upgraded to serve 7 million passengers in 2022, up from 2.7 million.
He said the private sector in Udon Thani is developing an industrial estate on 2,000 rai with a total investment of 4 billion baht.
The industrial estate is expected to be operational in 2021. The project is about 60% complete.
Mr Swat forecast border trade via Udon Thani province is expected to increase by 10% in 2021 from 500 billion baht in 2018.
In a related development, Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith said the cabinet at Thursday's mobile meeting agreed to speed up the 167-kilometre double-track rail linking Khon Kaen and Nong Khai, worth 26.6 billion baht.
The route is aimed to function as a transport link with the Kunming-Vientiane high-speed train network to Nong Khai province.
Mr Arkhom reported to the cabinet on Thursday that the ministry was scheduled to propose the Khon Kaen-Nong Khai double-track rail route to the cabinet for approval by January. The project is expected to be completed by 2022.
The cabinet on Thursday also ordered related agencies to speed up infrastructure development in five provinces -- Nong Khai, Udon Thani, Nong Bua Lam Phu, Bung Kan, and Loei.
The cabinet also acknowledged private sector proposals to develop infrastructure worth 7 billion baht over the next four years (2019-22) to facilitate transport in the five provinces of the upper northeastern region.
The projects include four-lane road construction, 139-km bypass construction for Udon Thani and Bung Kan, the upgrade of Udon Thani airport, and port construction along Mekong River in order to support marine tourism between Thailand and Laos.
Nathporn Chatusripitak, an adviser to the minister to the Prime Minister's Office, said the cabinet on Thursday approved the amended draft bill of the Private Investment in State Undertakings Act of 2013.
The new bill requires only state infrastructure development projects and public services excluding commercial development by state units such as land development of the Treasury Department.
State infrastructure projects valued more than 5 billion baht are required to be implemented under the public-private partnership scheme, while all ministries are allowed by the new law to implement their own projects if the project's value is less than 5 billion baht.