New plan for old rail hub
The State Railway of Thailand's (SRT) plan to close the 105-year-old Hua Lamphong Station in Bangkok is facing growing public resistance.
Starting Dec 23, all train services to and from the capital will be moved to the newly completed Bang Sue Grand Station. Then, the debt-ridden state enterprise will auction off parts of the station's land for commercial development.
According to Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob, whose ministry oversees the SRT, all of the station's infrastructure, including the tracks, train depot and office buildings, will be cleared to make way for shopping malls, hotels and condominiums. He has repeatedly promised that the old station's architecture -- especially its iconic facade and atrium -- will be kept as is, as the station will be turned into a public museum. The SRT also promised to build public amenities around it, such as park-and-ride facilities, a connection with the nearby Klong Lot and cycling lanes.
These promises seem to be just a load of hot air, after a virtual rendering of a cone-shaped high rise planned behind the historic station began circulating on the internet.
Fortunately, the image -- which was dubbed an eyesore by critics -- wasn't real. It was made by SRT Asset, the SRT's property development arm that was established by Mr Saksayam last year. SRT Asset has said it will hire an architectural firm of "international calibre" to lead the station's transformation, though it remains to be seen how the subsidiary would be able dictate the design once the SRT awards the concession to a developer.
Make no mistake. The grand old station's days are numbered, as rail systems and services are gradually being moved to Bang Sue Grand Station, which is located on a much larger plot of land. Businesses around the station are feeling the impact of the move, with many moving or closing down completely.
Even so, the station -- designed by Mario Tamagno, the Italian architect behind the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall and other royal palaces -- needs to be placed in the good hands of someone visionary and with the aesthetic refinement to bring the station into the modern era. It needs more than just the SRT and the transport minister, which are both consumed by rescuing the SRT from its toxic debt.
Hua Lamphong station should have a future that is more than just being a museum. There are plenty of older rail terminuses which are still operating regular services, the best known of which is probably New York City's Grand Central Station, which serves as both a heritage landmark and a major transport hub.
The transport minister seems to be committed to preserving the old train station, but the SRT, with its massive debt burden, simply can't do it alone. It needs to work with conservationists, historians, architects and developers to maximise the station's value.
There have been some interesting suggestions, including one from former deputy Bangkok governor, Samart Ratchapollasit, who asked the SRT to maintain limited regular services from the station. Others have proposed turning Hua Lamphong station into a terminus for high-end luxury trains to promote tourism.
SRT and Mr Saksayan need to consult the public about any decision on the station's future. By law, the station might be state property, but Hua Lamphong is a Bangkok landmark that belongs to the people. Instead of putting it up for a quick auction, Mr Saksayam can use this opportunity to maximise the value of Hua Lamphong's heritage. To do so, he must listen before making a decision.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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