The Airport Rail Link (ARL) service has been losing 70 million baht a month as it is carrying fewer commuters than the pre-pandemic levels of 2019, according to State Railway of Thailand (SRT).
During the pandemic, the SRT decided to tackle long-standing operational issues on the mass-transit line it operated by allowing a private company to help run rail operations.
A memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed with Asia Era One — also the concessionaire for the high-speed rail system linking the three airports — on Oct 20, 2021 to take over the ARL operation last year. The company also started managing the Red Line electric train service in late 2021.
About 1.87 million commuters take the ARL each month, a 25% drop compared with about 2.5 million in 2019, SRT governor Nirut Maneephan said on Thursday.
The agreement with Asia Era One called for the company to pay 10.6 billion baht to the SRT for rights to the operation by Oct 24, 2021. But the company proposed to pay by instalments which led to a revision of the co-investment contract.
The SRT has yet to transfer the executive rights to the ARL to the company, pending contract revision.
The MoU is renewed every three months until it is finished. “For now, the company is only paying interest to the SRT,” Mr Nirut said.
Frequent technical glitches leading to service interruptions have been a long-standing complaint of regular ARL users.
In January, the ARL encountered technical issues five times — propulsion system issues twice and also problems related to the brake, door and signal systems — which resulted in delays of 6-19 minutes.
The system also encountered propulsion system issues three times in February, twice each in March and April, Mr Nirut said.
A source familiar with the system said Asia Era One shouldered higher rail management costs than the SRT as staff-related expenses had doubled, while other expenses relating to electricity and maintenance remained the same.
The number of trips remains unchanged. But the income earned from the ARL services are still insufficient due to the low number of commuters, said the source.