Govt moving ahead with rail plan

Govt moving ahead with rail plan

On the record: Easing overcrowding, boosting tourism on agenda

A new Blue Line extension from Tao Pun to Tha Phra, which is set to open for a trial run next month, is one of 10 electric rail routes under a state plan to optimise public transport in Bangkok.

The government is looking forward to calling bids for the western Orange Line (Thailand Cultural Centre-Bang Khunnon) and southern Purple Line (Tao Pun-Rat Burana) after finalising the eight rail routes.

The development is being closely monitored by Bangkok Expressway and Metro Plc (BEM), known as the operator of the capital's first subway.

Its deputy managing director Witoon Hatairatana talked to the Bangkok Post reporter in Austria on a trip to study the European country's electric rail industry. He said BEM will continue to expand its services to cover more parts of the city.

What's the company's plan to develop its rail services?

Once the Blue Line train runs in a loop from Bang Sue to Hua Lamphong, Tha Phra and Lak Song, we'll reduce overcrowding. So far we've solved the problem by removing seats in carriages but when all 35 new trains are delivered to us by March next year, the seats will be reinstalled. We're also planning to increase the number of carriages from three to six to cope with higher demand in the future.

How about a new business plan?

We're interested in bidding for operating new rail lines, including the 220-billion baht Orange Line. We think it's the most potential route because it connects other rail lines in eastern and western Bangkok. That means it will carry a large number of commuters, which will give a new opportunity to develop nearby areas for commercial purposes.

How will you use subway stations for tourism?

The four stations -- Wat Mangkon, Sam Yot, Sanam Chai and Itsaraphap -- have been designed to be new tourist spots, but we need to carry out more activities to make them more widely known. This year, we'll sign a cooperation with the Tourism Authority of Thailand to run new tourism campaigns, including promoting trips to tourist attractions near the four stations.

How will the company gear up to open the Tao Pun-Tha Phra Blue Line?

We plan to do a test run next month before giving full services in March next year. This line is expected to increase the number of passengers to 500,000 a day, so we are recruiting more staff to take care of them and operate new facilities.

How will the company operate high-speed trains linking Don Mueang, Suvarnabhumi and U Tapao airports?

As a partner in a CP-led consortium, BEM gives its first priority to safety because the trains will run at a very high speed. Its speed also urges us to think more of maintenance costs.

A plan to develop commercial areas surrounding rail stations is also in the pipeline to generate more revenue and deal with concerns over the low number of passengers.

Is it possible to establish an electric rail industry in Thailand?

Another important move of the government after it builds all 10 rail routes in Bangkok will be to run two high-speed train systems and add trams to the transport network in provinces upcountry. I think the domestic rail industry project should be treated as a national mission.

If the government decides to go in this direction, it needs to think what to produce and to whom it will sell. A new factory may start with making small rail spare parts and export them to countries in South East Asia where electric rail networks are being developed. The government also needs to ensure the products meet international standards.

I've learned the Transport Ministry is preparing to draft ToR that will support Thai businesses in future rail development projects. In 2024, officials want contractors to acquire train carriages with 40% of their parts made domestically.

Maintenance work must follow suit by 2025.

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