The government is likely to reach an agreement with Tokyo to jointly construct one of Thailand’s two proposed dual-track electric train routes, according to a highly placed source.
The Government House source said Wednesday he expected the agreement to be signed during Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s official visit to Japan that will come after he returns from a meeting in South Korea next month.
“Basically, it is expected that the Thai government will allow Japan to operate the Tak-Mukdahan route,” said the source, referring to the electric rail route designed to connect western and eastern Thailand.
The government has been soliciting foreign backing for a number of infrastructure projects.
It has already reached an agreement with China — to the dissatisfaction of Japan — to build the first electric rail route, a 867km stretch linking Bangkok with Kaeng Khoi district of Saraburi and Nong Khai with Map Ta Phut in Rayong through Kaeng Khoi.
Prior to the PM’s visit to Japan, a team led by Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon and former deputy prime minister Somkid Jatusripitak, who now serves as an adviser to the government, will travel to Japan for talks to map out a preliminary framework for the rail route agreement, the source said.
Transport Minister Prajin Juntong, meanwhile, said the Tak-Mukdahan route is designed to link the Mae Sot Industrial Estate in Tak with Mukdahan province, which will serve as a connecting point to Laos. There is no agreement yet to let Japan operate the route, he said.
The Tak-Mukdahan project is still open to other investors, said ACM Prajin. But if Japan is ultimately the only country interested, it will become a Thai-Japanese cooperation.
Japan is also the only nation that has expressed interest in another electric rail project to connect Myanmar’s Dawei with Ban Phu Nam Ron in Kanchanaburi’s Muang district, he said.
At a meeting last week, a Japanese government representative raised objections to the Thai-Chinese agreement on the Bangkok-Nong Khai route, said a source at the Transport Ministry.
ACM Prajin said the China deal was signed under the previous Thai government, and the current one is obligated to honour its memorandum of understanding (MoU), which allows China to participate in the feasibility study for the Bangkok-Kaeng Khoi-Map Ta Phut-Nong Khai rail route project.
The fact that China has a plan to develop the Silk Road rail link from China to Thailand via Laos was also a key factor accelerating the past negotiations between Thailand and China and prompted them to quickly come to a conclusion, he said.
The framework of a new MoU Thailand will sign with China will be finalised by Friday, submitted to the cabinet for approval on Tuesday and then forwarded to the National Legislative Assembly for a vote.
Aside from China and Japan, the German company Siemens has also expressed an interest in investing in a proposed 167km dual-track rail route from Nakhon Pathom to Hua Hin in Prachuap Khiri Khan, ACM Prajin said.
The German ambassador joined Siemens representatives at a meeting with ACM Prajin Wednesday.