Sam Sherwood-Hale spoke to Khun Chaiwait, Permanent Secretary for Thailand’s Ministry of Transport about Thailand’s high-speed railway projects, the brand new central station and other exciting developments…

There are three state enterprises under the Ministry of Transport State Railway of Thailand (SRT), Mass Rapid Transit Authority of Thailand (MRTA), and Airport Rail Link. How does your Department manage them all?

The Ministry of Transport is responsible for all transportation modes, marine, air and land transport including railways. The Ministry of Transport directly supervises two state-owned railway enterprises consisting of the State Railway of Thailand and the Mass Rapid Transit Authority of Thailand.

​The SRT operates the long-distance train and established the SRT electric train company (SRTET) to operate the airport rail link line. The MRTA manages the metro line in Bangkok through the Bangkok Expressway and the Metro public company limited (BEM) which operates the Blue Line and Purple Line and the BTS Company which operates the Pink and Yellow line.

​In addition, the Department of Rail Transport (DRT), the new agency under the Ministry of Transport, performs the duty of railway policymaker and regulator for overall rail transport as well as formulating the strategy and development plans of the rail network in Thailand.

What was the motivation behind upgrading the Rail Project Development Office to the new Rail Department?

The Rail Project Development Office was a division under The Office of Transport and Traffic Policy and Planning (OTP) and upgraded to be the Department of Rail Transport. The DRT was established on 15 April 2019, with the aim of supervising the railway as the regulator. The Department of Rail Transport has five missions.

• The first mission is to monitor and evaluate the existing railway infrastructure development projects.

• The second mission is the development of the railway through the integration of rail networks for seamless connectivity.

• The third mission is to promote the services and safety standards in rail operations. The fourth mission is to supervise the railway project construction to ensure safety implementation and complyiance with international standards.

• The fifth mission is to determine the reasonable fare system to be able to promote the use of the railway and increase the density of land use around the station.

All the missions of the Department of Rail Transport aim at achieving the 20 years national strategic plan.

Can you give us an update on the status of the high-speed railway connecting Bangkok’s two major airports with the Eastern Seaboard?

This project is a high-speed rail line that will operate between Don Mueang International Airport, Suvarnabhumi International Airport and U-Tapao International Airport. It will be operated by Eastern High-Speed Rail Linking Three Airports Company Limited, special-purpose vehicles by the consortium of Charoen Pokphand Holding and partners. The distance from Don Mueang to U-Tapao has a total length of 220 kilometres. The total investment is 224 billion baht ($7 billion). This project was implemented by PPP scheme with a 50-year concession, the private sector partner will be responsible for operation and maintenance (O&M) cost, the PPP allows us to reduce the burden of Government investment, the Government shall support only the civil work cost and allow a private company to develop the Makkasan area to be built as the new hub of transportation and centre business.

By 2022, Bangkok’s commuters will be able to ride the new Yellow, Pink and Purple lines as well as extensions to the Green and Blue lines as part Thailand’s Rail Transport Infrastructure Development Strategy 2015-2022. What can you tell us about the Strategy and what you have planned beyond 2022?

Thailand’s Transport Infrastructure Development Strategy 2015 – 2022 is the key strategy to promote the railway system and water transport connectivity. For the rail transport sector, there is a master plan to improve the public transport network and service which is named the Mass Rapid Transit Master Plan in Bangkok Metropolitan Region (M-MAP), the goal is to develop a mass rapid transit network in Bangkok and provinces around Bangkok. The status of the network is below:

1. The North extension Green line (Mo Chit – Khu Khot) will be opened in December 2020

2. An Extension to the Blue line (Tao Phoon – Tha Pra) was opened on 30 March 2020

3. The Yellow and Pink line will be opened in October 2021

The Purple line (Tao Poon – Ratburana) will be opened in April 2026. Currently, there are many projects which are under construction which will be finished after 2020. Once our network is already completed, there will be 14 lines with 366 stations covering a total distance of 559.16 kilometres.

Many of our readers in the UK are used to the franchise system – is this a model you would consider in Thailand once the rail network is developed enough? Or would you prefer a vertically integrated model, like they have in Japan?

There are various types of railway management models, we consider the model that fits best for Thailand. For example, with regards to most urban railway projects in Bangkok, the process we follow involves a private company paying for the initial investment with the assets being transferred to the Government sector after the end of the concession, this model is commonly known as Build – Operate –  Transfer (BOT). It is quite different from the franchise system in the United Kingdom or the vertically integrated model of Japan. In both models, the railway was owned by infrastructure owners at first and then the infrastructure is shared with railway operators later.

Concerning freight transportation, what are some of the key economic corridors in Thailand that rail can help service?

There are two, the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) and the East – West Economic Corridor (EWEC). To promote economic development in the EEC area, there are some projects that can be provided the infrastructure development to support freight transportation such as Double Track Projects (Chachoengsao – Klong 19 – Kaeng Khoi, Laem Chabang – Mab Ta Phut – Rayong – Chanthaburi – Trat) to connect industrial area and ports. ​

The EWEC will promote connectivity between GMS member countries (Myanmar, Lao PDR., Vietnam). There are some projects that can be provided infrastructure development to support freight transportation such as Double Track Projects (Mae Sot – Tak – Kamphaeng Phet – Nakorn Sawan, Nakhon Sawan – Ban Phai).

The Southern Railway Line opened up the southern peninsula to travel and development, what is planned currently with regards to extending that line and/or building a new southern line?

To increase economic growth and promote the connectivity of the southern peninsula, there are some projects that can provide infrastructure development to support transportation such as Double Track Projects (Surat Thani – Hat Yai – Songkhla, Hat Yai – Padang Besar). Currently, these projects are in the process of cabinet approval. Moreover, there is a Land bridge project (Chumphon – Ranong) to support the Southern Economic Corridor (SEC).

Can you give us an update on the status of the high-speed railway connecting Bangkok with the north-eastern city of Nakhon Ratchasima?

This project is under MOU on railway cooperation between Thailand and China, all construction costs will be borne by the Thai side, the China side will responsible for the detailed design and construction supervision as well as the railway system and EMU (Contract 2.3) which is waiting for the contract to be signed. It will operate from Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima with a total distance of 253 kilometres.

​The civil work can be divided into 14 sections, two sections that have started construction consist of a 3.5-kilometre section from Klang Dong to Pang Asok and an eleven-kilometre section from Sikhio to Kut Chik, there are three sections waiting for the contract to be signed and nine sections are under the bidding procedure.

How soon will we be able to travel from Bangkok to Phnom Penh by train?

There is no direct train from Bangkok to Phnom Penh station as of now. However, on 22 April 2019, 40 years since operation between the two countries was stopped, Thailand and Cambodia decided to sign the agreement and operate the railway between Thailand and Cambodia again. The railway covers two kilometres across the border from Aranyaprathet to Poipet. Thailand provided the rolling stock and technical advice to operate a service between the two countries.

We are also hearing the Chiang Mai tram network might be bought back, do you have any news on that?

The Mass Rapid Transit Authority of Thailand (MRTA) will operate the mass transit system in Chiang Mai, commonly known as the Chiang Mai Tram, which is a planned light rail system that will run both above and below ground, Three lines are planned, which will cover a total length of 35 kilometres at an estimated cost of 95 billion baht ($3 billion). Currently, the project is at the design phase and is awaiting an environmental impact assessment report.

Can you give us an update on the Bang Sue Grand Station – how excited should visitors to Bangkok be about the new travel opportunities the station presents?

The Bang Sue Central Station is located at an existing large railway yard, it will be Thailand’s new railway hub. It will replace the current Bangkok Railway Station at Hua Lamphong as the terminal for all long-distance rail services from Bangkok. It will be one of the largest railway stations in Southeast Asia and will have 26 platforms. The 35 hectares area around the station will be developed as a business and commercial hub, in three zones. According to SRT’s plans, Bang Sue Central Station will have 600 metre–long platforms. The station is under construction and it is expected to be completed to serve the Red Line service from Bang Sue to Rangsit which will open in early 2021.

How important are events like RAIL Asia to the rail industry in Thailand?

The event allows concerning parties from Asia and the Pacific region to meet and share their ideas and Thai businesspersons related to the railway will take the opportunity to see what is going on at the international level, to boost Thailand’s railway industry in the future. It runs in the same direction as the Ministry of Transport policy, aiming to support agencies related to the railway to enhance the competitiveness of Thailand’s railway business.