China urges faster progress in billion-dollar railway link to Thailand

Construction News Laos
The Fuxing Hao CR300 train made by China’s CRRC, which will run between Bangkok and Nakhon Ratchasima. (Photo: State Railway of Thailand)

China urges faster progress in billion-dollar railway link to Thailand

China and Thailand must accelerate the construction of a planned high-speed railway linking the countries, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi said on Monday, pushing an ambitious Southeast Asian network.

Wang did not spell out a time-frame, but the Thai government currently expects the 873-km (542-mile) section in Thailand to be up and running in 2028.

Under the Belt and Road initiative, a global trade and infrastructure plan championed by Chinese President Xi Jinping, Beijing has pushed for a high-speed railway network that links the southwestern Chinese city of Kunming to as far south as Singapore.

The plan involves three routes originating in Kunming passing through Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam then joining in Bangkok. Construction of the section in Thailand – seen by some as a “fiscal trap” – has been delayed in recent years for reasons ranging from cost-sharing to COVID-19.

Thailand and China must promote the early implementation of the China-Laos-Thailand connectivity concept, the Chinese foreign ministry cited Wang as telling Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin in Bangkok.

According to Thailand, construction of the first phase from Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima is over 15% complete, and should be operational by 2027. The second leg should be ready by 2028.

The Thailand section was delayed in 2016 when Bangkok rejected Chinese financing due to what it said were high interest rates.
It later agreed to shoulder the entire construction cost of 179 billion baht ($5 billion) for the 252-km first phase, with China responsible for installing systems, design, and procurement of trains.

The second phase is to connect Nakhon Ratchasima to Nong Khai province, which borders Laos and will eventually link up to China.

The outlook for the section connecting Bangkok with Malaysia and Singapore remains unclear after Kuala Lumpur halted the plan previously.
($1 = 35.5800 baht)
Reporting by Liz Lee and Ryan Woo in Beijing and Panu Wongcha-um in Bangkok; Editing by Sonali Paul