Somkid rips Thai-Sino rail holdup

Somkid rips Thai-Sino rail holdup

Infrastructure gets pre-election push

Deputy Prime Minister and economy tsar Somkid Jatusripitak on the rear platform of a stationary train at Hua Lamphong station. He expressed anger Monday at the State Railway of Thailand for falling so far behind on planned construction of the Bangkok-Nong Khai highs-speed railway. (File photo by Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)
Deputy Prime Minister and economy tsar Somkid Jatusripitak on the rear platform of a stationary train at Hua Lamphong station. He expressed anger Monday at the State Railway of Thailand for falling so far behind on planned construction of the Bangkok-Nong Khai highs-speed railway. (File photo by Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)

Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak complained Monday that the development of the high-speed Thai-Chinese railway from Bangkok to Nong Khai is lagging behind schedule, and ordered the agency responsible to speed up the project.

"We want them to get things done as soon as possible. Construction of the railway on Laos' side is already significantly ahead of ours," Mr Somkid said during his visit to the Ministry of Transport to follow up on the progress of government infrastructure development projects.

Touted as the government's attempt to plug Thailand into China's Belt and Road Initiative, the development of the 606km high-speed has railway has already suffered from delays.

The route is divided into two major phases.

The first is Bangkok-Nakhon Ratchasima, which is 253km in length and set to cost 179 billion baht. The second phase runs from Nakhon Ratchasima to Nong Khai province.

Only a fraction of work on the first phase has been started, while State Railway of Thailand (SRT), the developer, had admitted that it has not yet finalised investment for the second. The agency previously announced the total 606km route will be complete by 2024.

The SRT only started working on the embankment of the initial 3.5-km stretch of the route from Klang Dong to Pang Asok in Nakhon Ratchasima's Pak Chong district in December last year, and the bidding for the rest of the construction work is already two months behind schedule.

The SRT has not announced the details of the second phase yet, but it has insisted the deadline for completion of the whole route remains 2024 as initially scheduled.

On the other side, work on began on Laos' part of the railway -- financed mostly by the Chinese government -- in December 2016, a year ahead of Thailand, and the stretch is expected to open in 2022, as scheduled. The route is 409km in length and will connect Vientiane, the capital, to Kunming in the southwest of China.

Aside from the high-speed train project, Mr Somkid told officials he wants to see developments in infrastructure projects materialise before the next general election, and urged officials to adhere to transparency.

The deputy prime minister also instructed the Port Authority of Thailand (PAT) to complete expansion plans for the third phase of the Laem Chabang Port scheme in Chon Buri.

This third phase has run into local opposition and bidding is already two months behind schedule.

Locals reportedly turned against the project fearing environmental damage as the construction would require the removal of a large quantity of sand, stoking concerns of tidal changes and coastal erosion.

During the four months before the planned general election in February, the Ministry of Transport will ask the cabinet to approve 18 infrastructure projects worth 723 billion baht in total, according to Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith.

Among these projects are Laem Chabang Deep Sea Port Phase III for 114 billion baht, the 109km motorway linking Nakhon Pathom with Cha-am for 79 billion baht, Suvarnabhumi airport's Passenger Terminal 2 for 22 billion baht and airplane procurement for Thai Airways worth 100 billion baht.

The Ministry of Transport will also hold bids for five projects worth around 480 billion baht in total, including the much-touted high-speed rail link connecting Suvarnabhumi, Don Mueang and U-Tapao airports, and the Rama III-Dao Kanong-Ring Road expressway.


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