More than 200 years after the first steam locomotive went into motion in England, trains are still one of the fastest and most used means of transport in the world. It has seen extreme changes, from horse-drawn wagons to steam locomotives and maglev trains, and today some of the fastest trains on Earth can travel with up to 430 km/h. So it’s safe to say that trains aren’t in danger of going obsolete. And Thailand and its neighbouring countries have big plans for the near future.
Bangkok could become the central hub of a railway system that will connect the main cities of South-East Asia in one gigantic web of lines. The efforts, coordinated by the Chinese Government, aim to establish three rail routes under the moniker “Pan-Asia Railway Network”.
According to the Bangkok Post, the Central (and shortest) Route would connect Kunming in China with Bangkok via Vientiane, then continue all the way to Singapore through Kuala Lumpur. The Western Route will start also in Kunming and will reach as far as Yangon via Baoshan and Ruili, before coming to a halt in Bangkok. And the Eastern Route is planned to connect Kunming with Hanoi, all the way to Ho Chi Minh in Southern Vietnam. From there, the planned railway turns west and ends up in Bangkok, via Phnom Penh.
The Government led by General Prayut Ocha-o-cha has already reached an agreement with China to build almost 850 kilometres of double-track rail routes. These will cover the Bangkok-Kaeng Khoi-Nakhon Ratchasima-Nong Khai section, and the Kaeng Khoi-Map Ta Phut section, both of them on the Central Route of the Pan-Asian Railway Network. At an average speed of 180 km/h, the trains would cover the distance between Bangkok to Nong Khai in 229.5 minutes.
The sections along the other two Routes are still in development, with consultancy firms drafting the design.
There is also the issue of project financing, with China offering an interest rate higher than the Thai government had anticipated. But official sources claim financial matters will be decided in February next year and the construction will begin in May.
Thailand and China will manage different elements of the railway, with Bangkok responsible for civil work and electricity supply, while Beijing will administer tunnel digging, rail bridge construction and track laying on hill slopes.
According to officials of the State Railway of Thailand, when the three routes will be completed, the Thai capital will become the key strategic location in the region.