Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, seen here during a ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of Hua Lamphong railway station in Bangkok, says that Thailand 4.0 will ride on rails, rather than roads and skies. (File photo by Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)

Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak has announced the government plans to shift the country’s main transport mode from road and air links to trains following the signing of contracts for five double-track railways.

Mr Somkid presided over the signing ceremony for nine contracts between the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) and private contractors on Thursday.

They oversee the construction of five first-phase double-track railways worth a total of 69.5 billion baht and covering a cumulative distance of 702 kilometres.

The head of the government’s economic team said these will serve as a springboard to shift Thailand’s main transport modes for both logistics and travel.

Thailand’s rail links have traditionally been considered substandard because this sector received less investment support from previous governments than road and air transport infrastructure, Mr Somkid said.

“This government sees the shifting over to rail as being very important,” he said.

“As a result, it has been pressing ahead with the development of double-track rail systems to cover all main cities,” he added.

In the future, improved rail links will be expanded to connect key double-track railways to second-tier cities to help tourism and goods transport.

The Transport Ministry said road transport costs 1.72 baht per tonne per kilometre on average while rail costs just 0.93 baht.

Thailand is now 86% reliant on road transport and just 2% on rail, causing logistical costs nationwide to spike to 1.75 trillion baht, the government said.

Mr Somkid said that next year the SRT, Highways Department, Rural Roads Department, Port Authority of Thailand and the Airports of Thailand are required to jointly review their investments and connectivity plans.

The government will turn to the private sector for any project it deems can be handled privately. State authorities will focus on those projects deemed unattractive to the private sector.

Most of Thailand’s 4,000km of railways are single-track.

The government will initially add an additional 1,000km of double-track railways to enable the shift away from roads and air, said Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith.

The five first-phase sections of the plan include the 136km section from Map Kabao in Saraburi to Jira junction in Nakhon Ratchasima, contracted by Italian-Thai Development Plc and ITD-RT Consortium.

Meanwhile, the 168km Prachuap Khiri Khan to Chumphon stretch has been contracted by a KS-C and STTP Joint Venture.

The deal to construct a 169km line from Nakhon Pathom to Hua Hin was inked Thursday by Sino-Thai Engineering and Construction Plc and AS Associated Engineering.

The deal for a 145-km line from Lop Buri to Pak Nam Pho in Nakhon Sawan was signed by Unique Engineering and Construction Plc and UN-SH Joint Venture.

Italian-Thai Development landed the deal to build an 84-km stretch from Hua Hin to Prachuap Khiri Khan.

The second double-track project phase is worth 398 billion baht. This will cover nine routes running a combined 2,217km. Cabinet approval is scheduled to be sought later this month or early next year.

News Reporter

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