Thailand’s Transport Ministry swaps plan for trams to electric buses in Phuket

Construction News
A tram project in Phuket is uncertain after the Transport Ministry opts to replace it with an electric bus system so it can budget. (Bangkok Post photo)

Thailand’s Transport Ministry swaps plan for trams to electric buses in Phuket

The Transport Ministry has done a U-turn, opting to replace the much-anticipated tram project with an electric bus system so it can save 10 billion baht.

The Phuket tram line would have been a 41.7-kilometre light rail system and come with a 34.82-billion-baht budget.

Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchod said he ordered the State Railway of Thailand (STR) to review the project and come up with an affordable alternative.

SRT had studied the project for several years and it had the approval of the local community and private sector, but it was no longer the best option, according to Mr Saksayam.

“Major cities around the world are now using electric buses and they don’t need tracks and signalling systems,” he said. “This [bus system] should reduce construction costs by 10 billion baht and mean cheaper fares compared to the tram project.”

Minister of Transport Saksayam Chidchob

Mr Saksayam said a study on the tram project estimated it would have attracted only 39,000 daily users and would not have been cost-effective.

The alternative is expected to be a bus rapid transit (BRT) system, similar to the one that serves commuters in Bangkok’s Rama III Road. Phuket’s BRT buses will run along the median strip on Phuket’s roads, Mr Saksayam said, adding the project was expected to be submitted to the cabinet for approval by the end of this year.

All being well, the new buses should be open for service by 2026, the minister said, adding the new system would stretch about 42km, with 21 stations.

On Aug 24, a proposal for a revised light rail system running from Phuket airport to Chalong intersection was debated at a public hearing and the Mass Rapid Transit Authority of Thailand (MRTA) had hoped it would be approved by cabinet by the middle of next year.

The tram system would run from Phuket Airport along Highway 4031, turn right on to Highway 402 and head to Phuket Town. The tram would then turn right into Thepsrisin Road, cross Thepsrisin Bridge and turn left into Highway 4021, where it would end at the Chalong intersection.

“The design was revised to include tunnels and elevated sections,” said MRTA assistant governor Saroj Torsuwan. “While the route passing Old Phuket Town will be kept intact, traffic will have to be re-directed.”

Two park-and-ride stations would be built, one at Phuket Airport and the other at Chalong intersection.

After obtaining cabinet approval in the middle of next year, bidding will likely commence in 2022, construction in 2023 and the service in 2026.