Light rail in four Thai cities open to foreign investment

Thailand is planning to begin construction next year of light rail lines in four major cities – Phuket, Chiang Mai, Khon Kaen and Korat – and the government is seeking private and foreign investors to partner in the projects that are part of the country’s massive infrastructure upgrade, Transport Minister Arkhom Termpitayapaisith said last week.

Plans are for the four projects to be funded through the government’s public-private partnership program (PPP), and investors will be fast-tracked through the process at the direction of Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, the transport minister said. The Phuket line, which has had its design completed and should be the first to break ground, will be submitted for PPP funding approval very soon, said a ministry official.

The four light rail lines are awaiting completion of their feasibility studies and environmental impact assessments before actual construction can begin, but those reports are expected to come back favorably. The feasibility study on the Phuket rail line has already been finished and the project has been given the green light.

“The government is hopeful that construction of those four projects could commence next year in a bid to reduce traffic congestion in those cities,” Arkhom said.

Aside from relieving traffic congestion, the construction projects are also intended to spread development and economic stimulus more evenly throughout the country as opposed to being concentrated solely on Bangkok or the Eastern Economic Corridor just east of the capital. The Khon Kaen and Korat rail lines are in the northeast, where development has lagged, while the Chiang Mai line is in the north and the Phuket line is in the south.

The combined investment required for all four projects has been estimated at $4.8 billion. The 60-kilometer, 23-station Phuket light rail line carries a cost of $725 million, while in Chiang Mai more than one route is under consideration with some sections possibly being underground. The estimated cost of the lines in Chiang Mai is roughly $3.2 billion.

Chiang Mai is the biggest city in northern Thailand and is both a tourism and commercial center. Phuket, with its white sand beaches, is the most popular tourist destination in the south, but is also a commercial and trading center. Its rail line will link the airport with Phuket town and also Phangnga province to the north.

None of the cities or provinces has any mass transit rail lines despite their relatively large populations, steady expansions, and increasing commercial importance.