Interview: Prajin Juntong
What is the role of international partnerships in current railway development projects? How will passenger and cargo efficiency improve?
PRAJIN JUNTONG: The current railway system present in Thailand consists of 4034 km of 1-metre gauge track, of which 91% is single-track. Single-track systems have serious issues, as trains cannot pass one another, impacting timing and efficiency. Thailand is now constructing dual-track rail systems, of which 905 km will be complete in 2015. Over the following three years, construction will continue, culminating in another 1626 km of dual-track rail across the nation. The additional capacity will raise average train speed from 60 km per hour to 100 km per hour for passenger trains, and from 39 km per hour to 60 km per hour for cargo. Cargo sectors that will be positively affected by this include agriculture and materials.
International cooperation comes into play with two other developments. A standard (1.435-metre) gauge rail system is being developed in cooperation with China, with the route beginning in Bangkok and extending northward and on to Laos. The civil works for this development will be done by Thais, the system work by the Chinese, and the operation and maintenance conducted as a joint venture. The second development is a series of high-speed routes that can reach 250 km per hour using Japanese trains. The routes will consist of the 672-km Bangkok-Chiang Mai route, for which travel time will be reduced from 14 hours at present to four; the highly populated and industrial route connecting Bangkok to Pattaya and Rayong; and the touristic route of Bangkok-Hua Hin.
These international partnerships have been in place for several years. The China Railway Construction Corporation began surveying these areas for high-speed development in 2012, and the Japanese began surveying the north-south and east-west corridors in 2011. The corridors garner special interest for the high volume of Japanese manufacturing there.
Each nation brings expertise and technology, and we live in an age where infrastructure development in one nation benefits an entire region. Improved rail connectivity enhances infrastructure links to the Cambodia-Laos-Myanmar-Vietnam region, and extends to our East Asian trade partners.
How will the administration fast-track infrastructure projects to stimulate recovery?
JUNTONG: Infrastructure development always ranks highly on the economic agenda, and this is especially true with the railway developments. For these projects, quick-response committees have been set up to get surveying and design under way quickly, and to begin construction. We are now using new surveying technology with aerial photography and 3D terrain mapping, both of which significantly shorten these initial processes. One obstacle that remains is mitigating the environmental impact inherent in constructing rail tracks. The Ministry of Transport is negotiating with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment to look into ways to fast-track the environmental impact assessment as well.
What enhancements to Bangkok’s airports would best support tourism growth in the near term?
JUNTONG: Tourism is a key sector for the nation’s economic growth, and Bangkok is the gateway to Thailand. Of the region’s three major airports, Suvarnabhumi Airport is the largest, supporting 45m passengers annually. The plan, set to begin in late 2016 or early 2017, is to expand capacity to 60m. The second largest, Don Mueang International Airport, supports 20m passengers, and the target is to begin a two-phase expansion to accommodate first 30m, then 45m. Lastly, U-Tapao International Airport is being converted from a military base to a civilian airport. Its capacity is forecast to grow from 800,00 passengers annually to 3m by 2018. July 14, 2015
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