An artist’s concept of Khon Kaen’s planned light rail, prepared by Khon Kaen City Development Co.
Khon Kaen’s ambitious plan to develop its own light rail network is about to be realised as the proposal will be vetted by the Land Traffic Management Commission later this month, chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak.
If the commission approves the Khon Kaen Transit System Co (KKTS), the company jointly set up by five municipalities in Khon Kaen and the province’s private sector, proposal for the light rail transit (LRT) project’s development, construction is expected to begin immediately, scheduled for operation in 2022, said Tawatchai Wanapitakkul, director-general of civil division of the Khon Kaen Municipality.
“We are ready to hire private companies to build the LRT,” said Mr Tawatchai. “We are just waiting for approval from the responsible government units.”
Founded in 2017 with initial registered capital of 5 million baht, KKTS was approved by the Interior Ministry to be a transit company on Feb 20, 2017. It will function as the central unit driving the development, management and income collection of the LRT line development. If approved, it would be the first such entity allowed to operate a transit line since the Municipality Act was enacted 64 years ago, he said.
KKTS will be operated similarly to the existing Krungthep Thanakom company, the investment arm of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration that owns the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system.
During the initial phase, KKTS will invest in the 22.6-kilometre Red Line of the light rail project. The 30-billion-baht project with 17 stations is projected to run from Samran in the northern area of Khon Kaen city to Tha Phra station in the south.
The light rail project is based on the original BRT network plan, which was proposed in 2012.
In 2015, Khon Kaen’s mayor proposed converting the long North-South Red BRT line in a light rail line as part of Khon Kaen’s Smart City development programme, and integrating it with planned high-speed rail in the country, linking Nong Khai and Bangkok, as well as the double-track rail network linking Khon Kaen and Jira junction in Nakhon Ratchasima.
Khon Kaen’s Smart City development programme has also been included in the country’s 12th national social and economic plan (2017-21).
The Smart City development programme calls for the city to double its GDP per person to US$12,000-$15,000 (394,000-493,000 baht per head year) in 2029 from an average of $6,000 per head in 2016.
The province’s GDP was 190 billion baht in 2017.
Khon Kaen has a population of 1.8 million.
Mr Tawatchai said KKTS also asked the Agriculture and Cooperatives Ministry to allocate 20 rai of ministry land near LRT stations for commercial use.
Kemchart Somjaiwong, chairman of the Khon Kaen Chamber of Commerce, said the LRT will help Khon Kaen become a hub for meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (Mice) business in the Northeast in three years, and a Mice lure for Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam in five years.
He said the province has 300 hotels, 10 of which are five-star that can accommodate the Mice market.
There were 4 million visitors to Khon Kaen in 2017, with the number expected to reach 5 million this year.
Khon Kaen appears to have made the greatest progress towards the government’s smart city scheme. The development has been propelled by the province’s strong private sector, notably third-generation Chinese entrepreneurs aged 40-50 who have been friends since childhood.
These entrepreneurs from 20 companies and leading organisations include the owners of property development projects, car dealerships and hotels, university lecturers, former local politicians and processed food manufacturers. They jointly established the Khon Kaen Think Tank Group on Jan 9, 2015, with the goal of finding the most appropriate city development plans to cover transport infrastructure for the province.
The think-tank group established the Khon Kaen City Development Co shortly after, with registered capital of 200 million baht, and has since been working with Muang Khon Kaen and adjacent municipalities to raise public awareness and form a feasible joint investment in the infrastructure fund for a public transport system.
Kungwan Laovirojjanakul, co-founder of Khon Kaen City Development Co, said the company aims to propel Khon Kaen as a smart city through many projects such as the development of the LRT, the development of a train factory and other projects.