Commuters face railway woes
Transport Ministry looks to boost Krung Thep Aphiwat's appeal
published : 20 Jan 2023 at 05:44
newspaper section: News
writer: Apichin Chitviriyakul
The State Railway of Thailand made a big change in its 126-year history on Thursday when the SRT moved the operation of long-distance train services to the North, Northeast and South of the country from Hua Lamphong station to Krung Thep Aphiwat Central Terminal, formerly known as Bang Sue Grand Station, in Chatuchak district.
The aim is to fully utilise the 34-billion-baht central grand station and reduce traffic congestion around a number of railway crossings near the old rail hub in Bangkok, according to Minister of Transport Saksayam Chidchob.
The ministry plans to renovate the 121-rai Hua Lamphong area for commercial purposes while the old terminal, which was constructed more than a century ago, will become a museum that is accessible via public transportation, he said.
Yet the move to relocate services to the new station is facing some criticism from passengers and opposition from the State Railway Workers Union of Thailand.
Recently, the union conducted a passenger survey and found that the majority of train users want all train services to continue operating out of Hua Lamphong station instead of Krung Thep Aphiwat Central Terminal, despite shuttle buses being offered free of charge to connect the two stations.
The main concern is that public transportation will become more difficult and expensive for passengers, said Samart Ratchaphonsit, deputy leader of the Democratic Party and a railway service expert.
"The closure of Hua Lamphong will cause suburban commuters to suffer and pay higher fares," Mr Samart said, adding that constructing tunnels or overpasses could have solved traffic problems without the need to close Hua Lamphong station.
Sarawut Charoongkit, a construction worker, said he regularly used Hua Lamphong station before it was closed.
"It has been this way for a long time ... [relocating services] would cause confusion and make it more difficult for some to travel to distant or unfamiliar destinations," the 35-year-old told the Bangkok Post.
Duang Phengtraphy, a 66-year-old retired railway worker and frequent traveller, shared similar concerns but noted passengers would suffer additional transit costs.
"When people take the train to Bangkok, they expect to arrive at Hua Lamphong," she said. "With the change, the [travel] distance will be even greater, costing more to travel from the train station to their final destination."
Sukalaya Malua, a monthly user, expressed similar grievances regarding the SRT's move of diverting train services to Bang Sue.
"Because my home is close to the [old] station, having all trains at Hua Lamphong is very convenient for me," the 53-year-old weaver said, adding the transition could be "very confusing and difficult" for her.
Along with passengers, local service providers and businesses are also impacted by the change.
Wittaya Ramana, a motorbike taxi driver near Hua Lamphong station, now expects the number of his customers to drop by half.
"I believe that some trains moving to Bang Sue will reduce the number of people who come here, lowering my income," he said.
For the 37-year-old, the matter had been talked about by other drivers and passengers for a long time.
He said he had been aware change was coming and that he had to prepare.
"We had been preparing for this change for a long time, even before Covid-19," he said, adding that he now may have to take on a second job to supplement his income.
Kan Phochanang, 63, another motorbike taxi driver, said he had been hearing about the change for several years and expected a significant drop in customer numbers and income.
For some, the SRT's commer- cialisation plans for the Hua Lamphong area could be beneficial, especially to those selling goods to tourists, said Patcharameth Naphasinchaiboo, a coffee shop owner near the station.
"I heard for a while that Hua Lamphong would be converted into a museum," she said.
The 43-year-old added that if the station was converted into a museum with street food and a walking street, it would become another major tourist attraction in the city.
When asked whether the SRT properly disseminated information about the change, the coffee shop owner said unequivocally: "No, the SRT did not adequately publicise the story."
She said the public is still confused about whether the authorities will simply relocate some trains or close the station entirely.