High-speed train haunts Korbsak

Construction News Laos

High-speed train haunts Korbsak

Korbsak Sabhavasu, the secretary-general to the prime minister, tweeted a simple message on September 1: “Morning people � Train project haunted me so early this morning � I was hit by a high-speed train in the early morning on Channel 9 krub”.

This followed arm-twisting politics the previous day when the Cabinet postponed an important agenda item to deliberate a transnational high-speed train project linking Kunming, Laos, Bangkok and Padang Pesar. Korbsak, who chairs a committee studying the transnational high-speed train, had hoped that the Cabinet would approve the broad framework of the project so that Parliament could vote on the memorandum of understanding later on. The high-speed train project envisages a transport link between Southeast Asia and mainland China.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, for unclear reasons, had decided to let the Transport Ministry under Sophon Zarum handle the high-speed train project instead – a move that appeared to have undercut Korbsak’s position, though Korbsak had been working on this project since the outset. Eventually, however, the State Railway of Thailand under the Transport Ministry will have to ink the deal if the high-speed train project is to go ahead.

Cabinet sources said Sophon would like to bring under his wing the whole high-speed train project, which will be earmarked with an investment budget of at least Bt350 billion.

On August 30, during the meeting of the Economic Cabinet, Korbsak introduced the study of the high-speed train project and informed the meeting that China had already signed an MoU with Laos, which would start building the railway next year. Korbsak would like to seek formal endorsement from the full Cabinet on the following Tuesday of August 31 so that the high-speed train project could get going.

As it turned out, Sophon told the economic ministers that the Transport Ministry also had a proposal in hand to build a high-speed railway for the Bangkok-Chiang Mai route and Bangkok-Rayong route. Since Korbsak had proposed the Kunming-Laos-Nong Khai-Bangkok route and Bangkok-Padang Pesar route, the Transport Ministry would like to bring all the projects under its oversight, Sophon insisted.

Cabinet sources said Abhisit tried to explain to Sophon that the revamp of the State Railway of Thailand, which has received a budget of Bt170 billion, is under the oversight of the Transport Ministry but this was separate from the transnational high-speed train project, which deals with China.

Sophon was unsatisfied with Abhisit’s explanation and the Economic Cabinet did not assign the Transport Ministry to take over the high-speed train project. Korbsak understood that the following day, the Cabinet would endorse the high-speed train project proposed by him.

“But there were signs after the Economic Cabinet meeting that the Bhum Jai Thai Party was not happy with the high-speed train project. The prime minister had to try to clear it up with Bhum Jai Thai. As a result, the brakes were put on high-speed train proposal on the following Tuesday. Abhisit gave an interview saying that the Transport Ministry instead would propose the project next Tuesday (September 7),” a Cabinet source said.

After this incident, Korbsak appeared to be upset because he had hoped that Parliament would approve the MoU soon after the Cabinet’s endorsement. Most important, he had not been informed that the high-speed train proposal would not go to the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

The incident showed once again the strong leverage that Bhum Jai Thai enjoys over the coalition government. But Cabinet sources said there is a possibility that the Democrats and Bhum Jai Thai might divide up the cake in this high-speed train project. The Democrats might assume responsibility for the Nong Khai-Bangkok and Bangkok-Padang Pesar routes, while Bhum Jai Thai would take over the Bangkok-Chiang Mai and Bangkok-Rayong routes. Sophon could also try to squeeze the high-speed train project in exchange for the NGV public bus project worth Bt60 billion.

 Watanayangkorn, the government’s spokesman, denied that there was any conflict between Korbsak and Sophon, saying the high-speed train project still has several details to be worked out.

Source: http://www.nationmultimedia.com/home/2010/09/02/politics/High-speed-train-haunts-Korbsak-30137088.html

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