High-speed train line to lift trade

The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has ordered the Office of Transport and Traffic Policy and Planning (OTTPP) to conduct a feasibility study for a high-speed train project from Laem Chabang port to Nong Khai province, a route expected to benefit the country's trade.

According to a source familiar with the matter, the route will connect to high-speed train lines in Laos and southern China, improving trade in Asean. The source said the Chinese government will shoulder all the investment cost for the high-speed trains in Laos.

The Laem Chabang port-Nong Khai route was not originally included in the Yingluck Shinawatra government's 2-trillion-baht infrastructure development plan, which was reshuffled by the junta.

The earlier plan called for four high-speed lines: from Suvarnabhumi airport to Rayong province for 221 kilometres, from Bangkok to Chiang Mai for 745 km, from Bangkok to Nong Khai for 615 km and from Bangkok to Padang Besar in Malaysia for 9,282 km. The routes were estimated to cost 780 billion baht.

The source said according to the NCPO's master plan for infrastructure development, it will meet this week to discuss the project, although high-speed trains will not be included in the talks. The discussion will centre on dual-track rail, roads and electric train lines including the Pink Line from Khae Rai to Min Buri and the Orange Line from Thailand Cultural Centre to Min Buri.

The entire investment project will be divided into three phases. The first phase runs from 2014 to 2015, the second from 2016 to 2017 and the last phase from 2018 to 2022. The scheme will run nine years, exceeding the previous government's schedule of seven years.

Even with the NCPO making a huge investment in infrastructure development, the source said public debt will not exceed 50% of GDP, within the fiscal sustainability framework set by the Finance Ministry. The framework has a ceiling of 60% of GDP. The NCPO still hopes to reach a balanced budget by 2017, said the source.

The Public Debt Management Office (PDMO) plans to seek funding from several sources for the infrastructure. Apart from the fiscal budget and loans, the PDMO intends to use public-private partnerships or infrastructure fund for funding.

However, some project owners such as the Highways Department are reluctant, saying its project is not attractive to the private sector for investment. The State Railway of Thailand, the owner of the dual-track rail project, said it is ready to invest.

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