By Charles F Moreira
China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) involves a network of land and sea routes connecting China through economic corridors running through 65 countries in Asia, Africa and Europe, and covering an estimated population of 4.4 billion people.
This will enable increased, mutually-beneficial trade and economic activities, as well as social interactions between these countries and peoples.
Passengers and goods will be able to continue their journey over the estimated 30,000 km of high-speed rail network within China itself right now, or between 80% of China’s large cities, and by 2025, this internal network is expected to have been extended to 75,000 km.
As for October 2019, six out of 10 of the world’s longest high-speed rail routes were in China, with the remaining four being in Japan, Russia, Spain and the UK.
Over 20 years ago in 1997, China officially announced its national policy to build an internal network of high-speed railways and its first inter-city high-speed trains rolled out.
Since then, China has become a major global player in high-speed railways and many countries, including Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar, Pakistan and Nepal are working with China on developing their own high-speed rail networks, and some of these are still works in progress, whilst others are still being planned or under negotiations.
Why the China – Thailand Railway?
So what are the benefits of the China – Thailand Railway, especially for Thailand?
According to the China travel portal ChinaTravelGuide, right now, the most convenient way to travel between two countries is by air, with direct flights between Bangkok and Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Kunming being the most popular.
However, the Thailand – China High Speed Railway will reduce travel costs between the two countries, makes travel easier and more convenient.
“Thailand is one of the top outbound tourism destinations among Chinese. When the China – Thailand high speed trains are put into service, they are estimated to attract 2 million more Chinese to visit the mysterious and colourful country each year, greatly boost the develop of its tourism industry”, says an article on the portal.
“For China, the railroad will greatly reduce costs of importing agricultural products such as rice, vegetables, and fresh tropical fruits from Thailand, as the rail freight fee is only about one-third that of air freight and in return, this will also boost the development of Thailand’s agriculture industry”, ChinaTravelGuide added.
“The project will help connect people in the two countries (Thailand and China) via Laos”, Huo Baoshi, director of the Department of Science and Technology and IT Application of China’s State Railway Group Co Ltd, told the Bangkok Post. “It can help promote socio-economic development and prosperity in these two countries and also across the whole [Asian] region”.
Construction of Bangkok’s brand new Bang Sue Grand Station built specifically to service high-speed trains is expected to be completed in November this year, with the station beginning operation in January 2021. According to State Railway of Thailand, Acting-Governor Worawut Mala, Bang Sue will replace Hua Lamphong Stations as Bangkok’s rail transport hub.
Meanwhile, construction of different sections of the China – Thailand Railway are being undertaken in the different countries it will pass through, though at different times.
Within China itself, the the first section of the Kunming to Mohan railway – i.e. between Kunming to Yuxi has been running since since 15 December 2016, with a journey time of one hour and 30 minutes.
Construction of the next section spanning 507 km from Yuxi to Mohan on the China-Laos border began on 29 April 2016 and will pass through stations in between, including Yuanjiang, Mojiang, Puer, and Jinghong. The designed speed of this section is 160 kmph.
Construction of the Laos section of the railway from Boten on the Lao side of the border to the capital Vientiane also on the Laos – Thai border began on 2 December 2015 and is expected to go into service this year. According to China Railway Group Limited, the last of the 75 tunnels along the route was completed on 28 September 2020. This section covers a distance of 427 km and is designed for trains travelling at 160 km.
The next section from Vientiane to Bangkok began on 21 December 2017 and will pass through stations along the way, including Nong Khai, Khon Kaen and Nakhon Ratchasima in Thailand, and is expected to be completed in 2023.
This section is expected to transform Thailand’s rail network and for once provide Thailand with a standard-gauge rail tract.
Trains on this section will run at between 160 to 180 kmph. Future plans are to extend this railroad to Rayong on Thailand’s eastern coast of the Gulf of Thailand.
For Thailand, the project involves two phases. The first costing 125-billion baht (RM16.59 billion) spans the 252.5km from Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima.
Thailand is working with China’s State Railway Group Co Ltd on the second phase which runs from Nakhon Ratchasima to Nong Khai and costs 200 billion baht (RM26.54 billion).