Two Bangkok rail lines approved, Phuket line proposed

The government’s committee on Public-Private Partnerships gave a green light last week for the Metropolitan Rapid Transit Authority to proceed with building two new commuter rail lines in Bangkok with investments totaling over $3 billion and that should help increase urban connectivity and further reduce traffic on the congested roads of the capital.

At the same time, the Transport Ministry proposed building a light rail line in Phuket at a cost of $700 million. A government official also said 20 contracts to build new infrastructure will soon be signed as Thailand accelerates its plans for a massive national logistics and infrastructure building and upgrade program worth tens of billions of dollars and designed to increase the country’s competitiveness.

Minister of Finance Apisak Tantivorawong said 10 contracts would be signed in the first half of this year with budget disbursement beginning before 2016 is over. The second 10 contracts will be signed in the second half of this year and the money will likely to start to flow in early 2017. All the projects are “big ticket” items, he said.

Aside from making the country more competitive, the projects are expected to stimulate economic growth and investment. Several economists have called on the government to spend more and spend quickly to prime the nation’s economic pump, in light of a slowdown in the exports that have traditionally driven the economy.

Contracts for a few big-ticket infrastructure projects have already been signed and building has begun. They are the 115-mile one-meter-gauge double-track rail network linking Nakhon Ratchasima province in the northeast with neighboring Khon Kaen province. Also underway are the Pattaya-Map Ta Phut motorway, the Bang Pa-in-Saraburi-Nakhon Ratchasima motorway, development of Laem Chabang deep-sea port and container terminal development at Laem Chabang.

The rail lines in Bangkok that received approval from the Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) committees are the Pink Line that connects Khae Rai and Minburi, and the Yellow Line that links Lad Phrao and Samrong.

Ekniti Nitithanprapas, of the State Enterprise Policy Office, said the government would be responsible for land-procurement costs while the private sector would invest in civil works, trains and rail systems, and consulting fees, as well as maintenance and operations of the elevated-train projects under a 30-year concession.

The PPP committee chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak also asked relevant agencies to hasten their considerations on five more fast-track commuter projects, which will have a combined investment value of close to $1 billion.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Transport said it would seek Cabinet approval for a 37-mile light rail line linking Phuket International Airport with Chalong intersection to serve tourists. The line would have 23 stations along its route. The estimated cost of the project is just under $700 million and a Ministry official said investors from China, South Korea and Europe had expressed interest.