Work on the long-awaited China-Thailand railway will start sometime later this year. Seriously. For sure, this time.
Earlier this week, Thailand’s Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Transport Chatchai Thipsunaree assured Chinese state media that the oft-delayed project would finally be getting underway in 2017.
“We (Thailand and China) are almost done with the contract, 90 percent I will say, the construction will start in this year for sure,” Chatcha told China’s official Xinhua news agency at a press conference on Tuesday where the Thai Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith also emphasized the railway’s “great importance” to Thailand.
The project was first announced to much fanfare by the two countries’ leaders back in 2014 as a China-backed high-speed railway that would some cost some 143 billion yuan ($20 billion). Since then, it’s been a bit of a bumpy road marked by disputes over financing and construction.
By 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 Xinhua that construction would begin by the end of that year. Obviously, that didn’t happen.
Then, last December, Arkhom told Xinhua that the first bit of track would be laid in early 2017. Obviously, that didn’t happen either.
The project is divided up into two phases: a 256km high-speed railway from Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima in the western Isan region of Thailand and another railway linking Nakhon Ratchasima to Nong Khai on the Laos border. Arkhom had previously estimated that both phases could be completed within 5 years, though you might want to take that estimate with a grain of salt.
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 railway southwards to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore as part of China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative aimed at improving trade and transport infrastructure in the region.
Of course, if this thing does ever get built, there will be an even greater influx of Chinese tourists into Thailand. Hotel buffets better be ready.
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