The National Legislative Assembly (NLA) has approved a draft memorandum of understanding between Thailand and China to build two domestic double-track rail routes.
Lawmakers voted unanimously in favour of the agreement, part of the country's strategic transport infrastructure development plan, in which the 350 billion baht railroads would be built between next year and 2022.
Speaking at the NLA meeting on Thursday, Transport Minister Prajin Juntong said the MoU concerns two double-track railways: A 737km route from Nong Khai-Nakhon Ratchasima-Kaeng Khoi and a 133km route from Kaeng Khoi-Bangkok.
The draft MoU needs NLA approval because it could affect security and the economy concerning the use of land and resources, as stipulated by Section 23 of the interim charter, he said.
The MoU is expected to be signed later this month between ACM Prajin and the president of China's National Development and Reform Commission, said Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Don Pramudwinai.
"We have not seen any major development in Thailand's railway operation for 120 years. This is the first such development," Mr Don said.
Under the draft MoU, China will be responsible for constructing and developing the rail systems. The Chinese will be allowed to take part in the preparation of the projects as well as conducting a feasibility study.
An assessment of the value will be jointly conducted by organisations designated by the two countries.
Both sides will also work together to decide how the plan will take shape, ACM Prajin said.
Construction on the project, the first double-track rails in Thailand to use 1.435m standard-gauge, could start as early as 2016.
A committee will be formed to oversee the work.
The panel will be co-chaired by the Thai transport minister and the Chinese director of the National Development and Reform Council.
ACM Prajin said the project would help modernise rail transport, boost safety and stimulate the economy. The two rail routes are part of an effort to establish transport links between Asean and China.
NLA member Monthien Boontan said the MoU will boost basic infrastructure development in Thailand.
But he said the construction layout and the ticketing systems must be designed in line with international standards to allow everyone to have access to the service, including the disabled.
NLA member ACM Paisan Sitabut said the project needs to consider the impact on the public and ensure accountability during the procurement process. "We will take utmost care," ACM Prajin said.