Government aims for seamless public transport in Bangkok

Shunning his usual limousine in favor of the subway and the Skytrain, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha touted plans last week to eventually link all of the capital’s public transport systems as his government also announced it would invest in train assembly plants to provide and service all railroad projects planned for the country.

“It was an unusual mode of travel for the Prime Minister. Instead of relying on a motorcade, Prayut jumped on the BTS Skytrain, then waltzed into the MRT subway to catch a train for a few stations before alighting at Hua Lamphong,’’ wrote the Bangkok Post, which sent reporters and photographers to cover the journey.

The Prime Minister eventually boarded a canal boat to illustrate the government’s “One Transport for All” concept, a network of linked mass transportation routes enabling commuters to travel seamlessly. The network would include roads, public buses, rail lines, airports, and boats.

Bangkok’s attractions are legendary, but a lack of transportation infrastructure has hampered the city. The capital has as many cars as New York, but only one third the road space. During the past two decades, however, government and the private sector have partnered in building the city’s first commuter rail lines, and construction has begun on additional lines to cover all Bangkok eventually.

The goal is to create the type of comprehensive network that would make Bangkok worthy of being called a “Smart City.”

“Smart City is the city where you can move freely … a city where mass transit modes are linked,” Gregory Enjalbert, vice-president of Bombardier, Asia-Pacific for Rail Control Solutions, told the Bangkok Post. A Canadian company, it has been providing products and services to Thailand’s rail operators.

“Right now, there is a lot of investment [in rail infrastructure] in Thailand. Compared to the past there is a lot of potential. The market will grow in the next 10 to 15 years. We believe that Thailand has to develop the country’s rail system to support economic growth,” he said, adding that Thailand is the most active for investment in railways in the region.

The Thai government is thinking along the same lines, and last week announced a policy to establish “rolling stock” train assembly plants in the country. In announcing the policy Deputy Transport Minister Pailin Chuchottaworn did not specify whether the plants would be publicly or privately owned. Details would be decided upon by the end of the year, he said.

“A huge, persisting problem we can see is that whenever there are malfunctioning trains, they cannot be fixed immediately. Help must always be sought from engineers abroad or the trains sent back to the manufacturers,’’ Pailin said.

“If we can establish our own rolling stock assembly plants, we can become a central railway transport,’’ in Southeast Asia, he said.