An EEC exhibition at U-Tapao airport in Chon Buri province ahead of a visit by a group of Japanese investors on Sept 13 last year. (Bangkok Port file photo)

The Eastern Economic Corridor Board has approved in principle a 260km high-speed train project seamlessly linking Suvarnabhumi, Don Mueang and U-Tapao airports at a cost of 200 billion baht.

Industry Minister Uttama Savanayana said on Monday the EEC board chaired by Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha had approved the project, which would be tabled for cabinet approval soon.

The State Railway of Thailand (SRT) is the project owner.

At up to 250km per hour, the train will take 45 minutes from Bangkok to U-Tapao airport, compared to 2-3 hours by car. It will initially have five stations: Chachoengsao, Chon Buri, Si Racha, Pattaya and U-Tapao.

The fares from Makkasan in Bangkok are estimated at 270 baht to Pattaya and 330 baht to U-Tapao airport. 

The project will also build three extensions from existing Airport Rail Link (ARL): a 21km Don Muang-Phaya Thai extension, 29km Phaya Thai-Suvarnabhumi and Suvarnabhumi-U-Tapao.

The extensions will reduce the travel time from Bangkok to Rayong to one hour, 100 minutes to Chanthaburi and 120 minutes to Trat, he said.

“The economic return for the entire project is 700 billion baht. In the first 50 years, the private sector will be allowed to run the project with an economic value of 400 billion baht. After that, the project will be returned to the government with the remaining economic value of 300 billion baht.

“It should not be considered a big favour to the private sector. If we cut the concession time to 30 years, the government may need to subsidise the cost and it will no longer be cost-effective,” he said.

Mr Uttama apparently responded to criticisms the project favoured the private sector because of the unusually long concession of 50 years. Critics also say the private sector would have the right to develop and profit from the SRT’s 150-rai prime plot in Bangkok’s Makkasan, as well as land along the railway, in addition to numerous privileges offered under the EEC. 

The board also on Monday approved in principle the expansion of the EEC to Ranong, Chanthaburi and Trat provinces from Chon Buri, Rayong and Chachoengsao currently.

As well, it approved a four-month study on the second phase of the high-speed rail line from U-Tapao to Rayong, Chanthaburi and Trat in order to link the EEC to the Cambodian border. 

Kanit Saengsuphan, secretary-general of the EEC Board, said Thai and foreign companies would be allowed to bid for the construction and operation of the train project in the latter half, with the winners announced in mid-2019.

Contracts for investments in the EEC — an aviation maintenance and repair centre, the next phase of the Laem Chabang Port and the third phase of Map Ta Phut Port – will be signed late this year.

Mr Kanit added SRT’s land plot in Makkasan would be developed by the private sector into a depot and link to the mass-transit Blue Line.

“The winner will have to pay rent to the SRT at market prices and revenue will be shared with the government.

“Since ARL has accumulated losses of 1.8 billion baht and a construction debt burden of 33 billion baht, it needs to be included in the new project to solve its financial burden once and for all,” he said.  

According to the EEC website, the rail project runs through Bangkok, Samut Prakan, Chachoengsao, Chon Buri and Rayong.

The standard-gauge rail project will use the existing structures of Airport Rail Link and State Railway of Thailand. One extension is from the existing Phayathai station to Don Mueang station while the other runs from Lat Krabang to U-Tapao and Rayong with a link to the airports.

The speeds will be 160km per hour in downtown and up to 250km per hour outside. It will have 10 stations: Don Mueang, Bang Sue, Makkasan, Suvarnabhumi, Chachoengsao, Chon Buri, Si Racha, Pattaya, U-Tapao and Rayong.

News Reporter

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