Democrats oppose Thai-Sino railway decision

Democrats oppose Thai-Sino railway decision

From left, Democrats Korn Chatikavanij, Anucha Buraphachaisri and Samart Ratchapolsitte file their letter to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to oppose the government's decision on the Thai-Sino railway project at Government House on Monday. (Pattarachai Preechapanich)
From left, Democrats Korn Chatikavanij, Anucha Buraphachaisri and Samart Ratchapolsitte file their letter to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to oppose the government's decision on the Thai-Sino railway project at Government House on Monday. (Pattarachai Preechapanich)

Democrats oppose the government's plan to pay 100% of the cost of a high-speed train line from Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima province, arguing the funds would be better spent on double-track freight rail and motorways.

Democrats Korn Chatikavanij, Samart Ratchapolsitte and Anucha Buraphachaisri submitted a letter on behalf of their party at Government House on Monday objecting to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha's decision to take over 100% of the railway originally set to be funded jointly by Thailand and China.

Carrying the entire financial burden poses risks and the government could lose money on the project unless it has a co-investor, as the shortened route would not carry passengers transiting to and from China, Mr Korn said.

A wholly Thai investment would create long-term budgetary constraints and the government would lose its bargaining power with China, he argued.

The Democrat Party urged the government to first construct double-track railways to cut cargo-transport costs, build intercity highways and reform the State Railway of Thailand.

Prime Minister Prayut announced in China last week that the government would pay 100% of the cost of the Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima line, but hire China to build it. The announcement followed the government's unsuccessful attempts to have Beijing raise its investment level and lower its loan interest rate.

The original Thai-Sino railway was planned to stretch 873 kilometres from Nong Khai province to Bangkok and Rayong province, and connect to a line from southern China to Laos. The cost of the inter-regional routes that could handle up to high-speed trains was estimated at 530 billion baht.

Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith said later Monday he had not seen details of Mr Korn’s letter, but argued that the investment would not affect the country’s financial status or public debt.

He said the ministry initially had discussed the matter with the Finance Ministry, which did not express any concern over borrowing or issuing public debt. He explained that loans would be taken and repaid gradually over time while the public debt currently amounted to 40% of GDP, which he said was still low.

“The government also has reduced the scale of the construction project to only the 250km-long Bangkok-Nakhon Ratchasima section, not extending it to Nong Khai and Map Ta Phut (in Rayong). This cuts the budget from 360 billion baht to only 170 billion baht,” Mr Arkhom said.


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