Following years of delays, disputes, and more delays, construction of the long-awaited high-speed railway connecting Thailand and China is set to start very shortly. No, really! We promise this time… Maybe.
Thai Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith said that work will officially begin on the first phase of this highly-anticipated rail project on December 21st, Chinese media reports. The announcement comes after Thailand finally approved an environmental impact assessment survey of the railway, the last remaining legal hurdle to getting tracks laid down on the ground.
This first phase will see the construction of a 253 km high-speed railway between Bangkok and the city of Nakhon Ratchasima. It’s set to cost $5.4 billion with Thailand providing the money and most of the materials while China provides the expertise and supervision. It’s optimistically set for completion in 2021.
Meanwhile, 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 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 even 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 regular 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 Chatchai Thipsunaree assured Chinese state media that the oft-delayed project would finally be getting underway in 2017 — “for sure.” It appears that he might actually just live up to his promise.