New setback looms for Thai-Sino rail project

New setback looms for Thai-Sino rail project

Construction details 'lost in translation'

A steam locomotive chugs out of Hua Lamphong terminal with carriages full of tourists on a special trip to the ancient capital of Ayutthaya, marking the 120th anniversary of Thai railways. (Photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)
A steam locomotive chugs out of Hua Lamphong terminal with carriages full of tourists on a special trip to the ancient capital of Ayutthaya, marking the 120th anniversary of Thai railways. (Photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)

The multi-billion-baht Thai-Chinese rail development scheme is poised to suffer another setback if China fails to submit the project's design document needed to estimate the rail's costs by the end of this month, according to a transport source.

China has submitted the project design of the 252.5-km high-speed train linking Bangkok and Nakhon Ratchasima; but the document involving construction materials and components is written in Chinese.

Thai authorities have asked China to translate it into English and submit the new document by the end of this month, ahead of the 17th meeting of the Thai-Sino panel overseeing the high-speed railway project to be held in Beijing next month. The planned meeting has been postponed from January.

According to the source, an agreement has been made between Thai and Chinese officials that if the document in question is not submitted by the end of this month, the joint meeting will be called off.

The document, which is expected to include the properties of those materials, will be compared with the Thai construction code for materials. The project design is about 80% complete. The remaining 20% involves the translation of construction materials from Chinese into Thai.

Without the document, the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) is unable to estimate the construction costs and set a reference price necessary for project bidding, the source said.

If the 17th meeting is further delayed, the 179 billion-baht rail development scheme will also be delayed and this could lead to the project being scrapped, the source said.

"At this stage it is still not known when the rail development project will be submitted to the cabinet for approval," the source said.

"Even if the construction design is completed, there is still a health/environmental impact assessment study process which is not yet finished. We're trying to bring the project to speed so that the scheme is submitted to the cabinet for approval."

The Thai-Chinese high-speed train project was initiated in late 2014 but was delayed due to disagreements between Thailand and China over finances and the development of commercial land.

Another issue which could hinder the project is the issuing of professional licences for 300 Chinese engineers working for the project, the source said.

Under Thai laws, foreign engineers who design construction projects in Thailand must pass an examination and hold local profession licences. The Transport Ministry will meet the Council of Engineers on March 30 to discuss the issue, the source said.

The source said a possibility of organising the exam in China is being considered due to the large number of Chinese engineers taking part in it. Officials are also expected to design an exam that is "appropriate", as some Chinese engineers are senior specialists, the source said.

A teleconference is expected to be held between Thai and Chinese officials to address the examination issue which will delay the project design if China disagrees, the source said.

The joint rail development is hoped to reduce the cost of logistics and extend cooperation in trade, investment and tourism between China and Asean countries.

Meanwhile, Peraphon Thawornsupacharoen, deputy permanent secretary for transport, said Japan will submit a full report to Thailand in June on the Thai-Japanese high-speed rail project linking Bangkok and Chiang Mai.

Japanese officials are conducting a study into commercial development of the area along the rail route as well as the design of train stations to be in line with urban development plans, he said.

The project is likely to be submitted to the cabinet for consideration in September. Mr Peraphon said Japan insists new tracks must be built for the entire route for safety and ease of management.

Originally an 88km section between Bang Sue central station and Ban Pha Chee would share tracks with the Thai-Chinese rail project.

He said the route will have three sets of rail tracks for the Thai-Japanese system, Thai-Chinese system and the dual track system, which means construction costs will also increase.

Mr Peraphon said the Transport Ministry is also reviewing the 193.5km Bangkok-Pattaya-Rayong high-speed train project to provide better connectivity for passengers travelling to Suvarnabhumi airport and U-tapao airport in Rayong.

A section of the project route overlaps with the Airport Rail Link's extended route.

He said the review follows the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) committee's meeting that decided both projects should share tracks to provide better connectivity for passengers.

The 193.5-kilometre high-speed train scheme will connect Suvarnabhumi airport to U-tapao airport and the special economic zone in Rayong province.

The EEC is intended to be a special location to accommodate investment in 10 targeted industries, promoted as clusters by the government.

Meanwhile, Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith said Sunday that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has signed an order of the National Council for Peace and Order to move the director of Bangkok Mass Transit Authority, Surachai Eiumwachirasakul, to an inactive post. (Full story here).

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