Plans to develop a high-speed rail system in Thailand are gathering pace, with a series of routes being considered as part of a programme to boost passenger and freight services and better integrate the transport network with the rest of the region.
Various proposals to develop a high-speed rail system have been raised since the mid-1990s, with one of the first suggestions a line linking Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima in the north-east. None got past the design stage.
However, in November last year economic ministers revived the proposal, and this time it is seen as having a greater chance of leaving the station.
A feasibility study by the Office of Transport and Traffic Policy and Planning (OTTP) on four proposed routes is to be completed by August and submitted to the government. A 220-km link between Bangkok and the eastern province of Rayong is the first being considered for construction.
The three other routes that the government is studying are Bangkok to Padang Besar on the Thai-Malaysian border; Bangkok-Nong Khai in the north-east; and Bangkok-Chiang Mai. If all lines were to be built they would cover some 2000 km, adding 50% to the length of the existing rail network and allowing travel from Bangkok to any district in the country in less than five hours.
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This programme was given a boost last year through the Thai Khem Khaeng infrastructure programme, a $43.4bn scheme launched in 2009 to stimulate the then flagging economy and bolster the country’s medium-term economic competitiveness.
Spending of around $5.2bn was approved by the cabinet to upgrade the existing rail network, with $4.6bn to be used for track doubling and the balance for new rolling stock. With the planned upgrades, set to be completed within five years, it is expected that speeds on mainline tracks will double to around 120 km per hour.