The long-awaited China-Thailand railway appears to finally be back on track with construction slated to start early next year.
The railway was first announced to much fanfare by the two countries’ leaders back in 2014 as a China-backed high-speed rail project costing some 143 billion yuan. Since then, it’s been a bit of bumpy road with disputes over financing and speed.
In June 2015, it appeared as though the project would be scaled down to a medium-speed railway when an agreement over its multi-billion dollar funding could not be reached. Later, in September of that year, the Thai Deputy Prime Minister told China’s official Xinhua news agency that construction would begin by the end of that year. Obviously, that did not happen.
But, Thailand’s Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith now has an update on the much-anticipated project, telling Xinhua that the first little bit of track would finally be laid early next year.
Arkhom said that after bidding on the project is complete in early 2017, construction of a 3.5km section of track would begin. That would then be followed by the building of additional sections that will make up the first phase of the project — a 256km high-speed railway from Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima in the western Isan region of Thailand.
At the same time, plans would be drawn up for the second and final phase of the project linking Nakhon Ratchasima to Nong Khai on the Laos border.
Arkhom estimated that the first phase of the project could be completed in 3 years, while the whole thing may be finished in 5 years. The railway would link with a China-Laos railway, allowing travelers to make the trip between Bangkok and the Lao capital of Vientiane in just 4 hours, and travel all the way up to Kunming. Down the line, the hope is to extend the line southwards to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore as part of China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative aiming to develop better trade and transport infrastructure in the region.
The Thai transport minister also expressed the hope that the new railway would help to bring greater economic prosperity and investment to Thais living away from the capital, preaching a familiar gospel. “We don’t have a high-speed railway here in Thailand yet, but we foresee that high-speed railways can bring change to the life of Thais, as (what has been) proved in China,” he said.
Of course, another obvious effect of the proposed railway link would be an even greater influx of Chinese tourists into Thailand. Already, Thailand is the favorite destination of most Chinese travelers. In 2015, 8 million Chinese tourists visited Thailand, and that’s expected to increase to 9 million this year.
If this thing ever does get built, hotel buffets better be ready.
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