Thailand, China agree on railways
The cabinet approved a draft cooperation framework Tuesday for the Thai-Chinese railway development project.
Government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said the draft framework covered the construction of 1.435-metre standard-gauge railways along two routes.
They are Nong Khai-Nakhon Ratchasima-Kaeng Khoi and Bangkok-Kaeng Khoi-Map Ta Phut.
The two routes together will cover 867 kilometres and cost 350 billion baht.
Construction will be divided into four sections -- Bangkok-Kaeng Khoi; Kaeng Khoi-Map Ta Phut: Keang Khoi-Nakhon Ratchasima; and Nakhon Ratchasima-Nong Khai.
Mr Sansern said Thailand and China would establish special vehicle companies to run the train system, train operation, and maintenance and repair services.
The project's development will be based on the Engineering, Procurement, Construction method in which Thailand is the project owner, while China designs, procures and constructs track systems and equipment.
China will be responsible for construction that requires high technology such as tunnels, bridges and the rail operating system.
Thailand will be in charge of environmental impact assessments, civil work, land expropriation, electricity supply and equipment support for the construction.
Funding will come from several sources -- the fiscal budget, borrowing from domestic financial institutions and international loans, mainly from the Export-Import Bank of China but on condition that lending rates not exceed domestic rates.
Rail operation and maintenance will be divided into three phases, with China fully responsible for the first three years after completion.
During years four to seven Thailand and China will have equal responsibility, and after seven years Thailand will take over full responsibility, with China serving as an adviser to the project.
Under the framework, China will provide training for Thai officials.
The framework will have five-year term and can be extended if the two governments agree.
Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith told the cabinet that the cooperation framework was another step in the project's development.
A foundation stone laying ceremony is scheduled for Dec 19 at the operations control centre in tambon Chiang Rak Noi of Pathum Thani's Sam Khok district.
Mr Arkhom said the two countries would then take six months to analyse and evaluate project details and the worthiness of the investment before submitting the project for cabinet approval. Construction could start next May.
"However, a May start depends on Thailand and China's conclusions on the project's investment pattern, construction costs and lending rate," he said.
"We'll meet again within the next month to discuss the details."