Following years of delays and disputes, construction of the long-awaited railway connecting Thailand and China is set to begin shortly. But for real this time!
The Chinese Embassy in Bangkok issued a statement over the weekend, announcing that next month China and Thailand will sign two contracts to start work on the first phase of the much-hyped railway project with actual construction beginning promptly in October.
This follows a meeting on the railway between representatives of the two countries where details were nailed down and a price agreed upon. Last month, the Thai government formally approved the first stage of the project.
The first phase will see the construction of a 253 km high-speed railway between Bangkok and Nakhom Ratchasima. Previously, the project had been estimated to take four years and cost $5.2 billion with Thailand providing the money and most of the materials while China provided the expertise and supervision.
At the same time, the two sides are still working out the particulars of the second phase of the project which will take the rail line an additional 600 km to Nong Khai on the Laos border.
Once both phases are complete, the railway will link up with a China-Laos rail line that is currently under construction, allowing travelers to make the trip between Bangkok and the Lao capital of Vientiane in just four hours, and travel all the way up to Kunming. Further down the line, the hope is that the railway will be extended 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.
First announced by the two countries’ leaders way back in 2014, the railway has faced a number of setbacks and delays over the years. Despite multiple announcements that work would begin soon, no track has yet been laid down. However, in May, Thailand’s Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Transport assured Chinese state media that the oft-delayed project would finally be getting underway in 2017 — “for sure.”
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