Thailand’s top court backs MRTA in bidding dispute on construction of Bangkok’s Orange Line’s western extension

Construction News
Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob, left, listens to a briefing on the progress of the Orange Line eastern extension in March 2020. (Bangkok Post File Photo)

Thailand’s top court backs MRTA in bidding dispute on construction of Bangkok’s Orange Line’s western extension

Lower court ruling that backed skytrain operator’s complaint of unfair treatment overturned

The Supreme Administrative Court has overturned a lower court ruling in a dispute over bidding for the construction of the Orange Line’s western extension, which could allow the Mass Rapid Transit Authority of Thailand (MRTA) to proceed with the project.

The construction of the western extension, which will connect the Thailand Cultural Centre with Bang Khun Non, is currently stalled by disputes over the bidding process and complaints about alleged irregularities.

In July 2020, the MRTA invited companies interested in building the western extension to submit bids. However, in February of the following year, the committee overseeing the project scrapped the tender and called for a new round of bidding with new criteria, after the skytrain operator Bangkok Mass Transit System Plc (BTSC) had already submitted its bid.

The contract was subsequently awarded to Bangkok Expressway and Metro Plc (BEM). The decision prompted BTSC to sue, claiming the decision was unfair and subjective, a view upheld by the Central Administrative Court.

However, the Supreme Administrative Court said the project committee’s reason for scrapping the first round of bidding was legitimate and in line with Section 6 of the Public-Private Partnership Act of 2019.

The MRTA’s decision to call a fresh round of bidding before all legal disputes relating to the western extension were resolved was not subjective as alleged — instead, it served the project’s objectives well, said the ruling.

It said that the longer the dispute drags on, the more the government stands to lose from the project’s delay, noting that once the project is completed, over 400,000 people per day are expected to use the Orange Line to commute.

The court also said that since the committee had not started to consider the bids submitted in the first round, there were no grounds to believe that the MRTA engaged in collusion to benefit other bidders, as BTSC has alleged.

Opposition politicians last year called for an investigation into the second bidding round, saying that taxpayers could end up footing the bill for 68 billion baht in state subsidies that would not have been necessary had the first round gone ahead.

The 35.9-km Orange Line comprises two stretches: one runs east from the Thailand Cultural Centre to Min Buri for 22.5km, while the western section (13.4km) runs from the Cultural Centre to Bang Khun Non.

The eastern section of the Orange Line is scheduled to open in August 2025. The western section is expected to open in December 2027.