The Rail Transport Department has unveiled a plan to develop areas in Nong Khai to prepare for a rail connection with Laos as Thailand gears up for more trade with China along the line connecting the three countries.
An 80-rai site at the Nong Khai railway station would be developed as a depot to handle international trade, said Kittiphan Panchan, the department’s director-general.
A transshipment yard would be constructed to handle goods being carried on Thai trains and those from China, he said.
The country is also planning a new bridge over the Mekong River for trains, about 30 metres from the present Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge, Mr Kittiphan added.
Trains between Nong Khai station and the Thanaleng border station in Laos now share the bridge with motor vehicles crossing between the two countries.
The department did not give a timeline for the projects, but there is new urgency since the 471-kilometre Laos-China rail line is nearly completed. The first train from China to Vientiane is scheduled to arrive on Dec 2 to celebrate Laos' National Day.
A section of the track is to be extended from the Lao capital to the border with Thailand.
The Lao-China railway is part of a trans-Asian network under the Belt and Road Initiative spearheaded by China to connect its rail system with Southeast Asia. Ultimately, Thai authorities envision an upgraded line that would move goods between China and the Laem Chabang deep-sea port on the Eastern Seaboard. But work in Thailand is years behind schedule.
Thailand now expects to be able to connect with Laos and China in 2028 when the first high-speed train line from Bangkok to Nong Khai is completed.
The first section of the high-speed line is under construction from Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima, and could be in service by 2026.
The high-speed trains in Thailand will be able to run at a maximum speed of 250 kilometres per hour, while the trains in Laos will top out at 160 km/h.
The government expects the rail connection to promote more trade and tourism between Thailand and China.
Punyapob Tantipidok, an analyst with the Economic Intelligence Center, a research arm of Siam Commercial Bank, wrote in a report released on Sept 13 that better rail connections between Thailand and China would promote trade and investment, especially in the Eastern Economic Corridor.
Fast trains will allow Thai products to reach southern China in no more than one and a half days, compared with two or three days on land and up to a week by sea, he said.
The train line would create a greater opportunity for Thailand to send fresh fruits as well as industrial products such as electrical and electronic goods to China, the analyst added.