The clocks at On Nut BTS Station indicate 7:00 am this Wednesday. And despite the fact that offices do not open before 8:30 or even 9:00 am, the BTS platform in the direction of Bangkok city center is already crowded with people. Most commuters will have to line up for 10 minutes and let an average of 2 trains pass them by before being able to board one of them.
This kind of scene is unfortunately not confined anymore to the so-called peak-hours when hordes of commuters go to work or come back home. At Siam Station, where both BTS Sukhumvit and Silom lines are in connection, crowded platforms have became the norm for a couple of months. The BTS –also named Skytrain – is a victim of its own service. The efficient, fast, and reliable elevated train system transports every day over 100,000 travelers.
The good news for both residents and tourists is that this network is finally growing. Opened in 1998, it took 10 years to open 2 new stations on the Silom line, despite the fact that both were planned from the start and were many times delayed due to financial and above all political constraints. On August 12, the much-expected expansion of the Sukhumvit line was finally open to the public after 5 years of construction. The investment was mostly supported by the city of Bangkok at a cost of THB 50 billion (US$1.7 billion).
The 6 new stations are going up at the end of Sukhumvit Road, connecting the very important district of Bang Na, home to many industrial companies, shopping centers, the future IKEA – due to open in November, Bangkok’s relocated night market (previously at Suan Lum across Lumpini Park), as well as Bangkok International Trade & Exhibition Centre, BITEC. The latter expects to increase its attraction to potential MICE organizers due to the convenience to come by public transport. BITEC management offers a shuttle service from Bang Na station, which will be completed by a covered air-conditioned walkway in 2012.
However, BTS administration seems – as it is common in state companies in Thailand – did not fully anticipate the greater strain on the BTS capacity. The new extension is adding another 20,000 commuters per day to the network. But so far, BTS trains on the Sukhumvit line have only 3 cars with a limited capacity. Most of the trains are now full from early morning until late in the evening. And there is little improvement to be expected over the next few months as only 2 new trains have been put in service during peak hours.
The Silom line was recently doted with new trains manufactured in China and composed of 4 coaches. On the Sukhumvit line, trains with five coaches are now probably needed, as well as a higher cadence between trains. But it might take a lot of time again before something really happens.
Meanwhile, both BTS and MRT continue their expansion: 3 new stations will open on the Silom line by December 2012. The MRT (Bangkok underground train system) just started the expansion of its unique line from the Bangkok main rail station at Hua Lamphong to Chinatown.