Demolition plan off track
The State Railway of Thailand (SRT) has unveiled a plan to tear down a large number of old railway stations to pave the way for the construction of double-track railways, without considering the fact that most of them are national heritage buildings. This is wrong.
The SRT board has reportedly approved the plan to indiscriminately demolish 298 stations that would be located by the new tracks and build new ones, with designs that it says must "reflect local identities". This has created concerns about possible shoddy work.
For example, the agency says that new stations on southern routes will be painted blue as this colour signifies the sea, while green is to be the colour for those along lines heading to the North as it represents forests.
The SRT said it is seeking about two billion baht for the job.
The proposal, however, has attracted criticism from conservationists who have been working to save the old stations. They have urged the state-run agency to honour its promise that some stations with conservation value will be spared.
Of the country's 400 old stations, conservationists say at least half are worth keeping.
The SRT made the promise early last year when social pressure peaked after conservationists, while agreeing the double-track development was necessary, argued strongly to keep the buildings, which have unique designs and have been in use for around a hundred years.
According to local media reports, demolition and reconstruction will cost the SRT six million baht per station.
Prominent conservationist Parinya Chukaew who teaches architecture at King Mongkut's University of Technology in Lat Krabang, said the old stations, mostly made of wood, could be dismantled and reassembled elsewhere. They could be used as meeting halls or local museums, potentially benefiting local tourism and community development. His efforts to save Ban Mae Phuak train stop in Phrae's Den Chai district, among others, are noteworthy.
Back in 2017, the SRT found itself in hot water for its proposal to demolish some stations including the main Khon Kaen station and some in Nakhon Ratchasima. Public anger prompted the cash-strapped agency to reconsider the plan, opening the way for local communities to save some stations in both northeastern provinces.
The agency also said it had no objections if local communities and civic groups developed their own conservation plans for stations they thought were worth keeping.
Such openness, while laudable, is not enough. The SRT must be aware that not all local communities are ready for the job.
This explains why it has proposed a new demolition plan that will see about 190 stations from Nakhon Pathom to Padang Besar in the South and some 100 stations from Khon Kaen to Nong Khai in the Northeast bulldozed.
Instead of handing the SRT the money for demolition and replacement, the government must put the brakes on it, telling the agency to look at the successful work of conservationists and apply it where possible. This will save cultural heritage along with state money.
It is a shame that state conservation agencies like the Culture Ministry do not recognise the value of these unique vanilla-maroon structures and simply watch idly as they slip away as a result of the SRT's indifference and ignorance.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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