Japan offers transport loans

The Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) is interested in offering loans for new Thai transport development projects despite doubts over their expensive budgets.

The offer from Jica, currently a main lender of the Red Line electric rail route linking Bangkok and Pathum Thani, comes two days after the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) approved projects to build two rail routes on standard 1.435-metre wide tracks and dual-tracks on six other routes.

When Jica representatives met permanent secretary for transport Soithip Traisuth yesterday to discuss financial options, reporters also took the opportunity to ask her to respond to former deputy Bangkok governor Samart Ratchapolsitte’s criticism that the construction costs of the two rail routes are “unusually high”.

They were referring to the 737-kilometre Nong Khai-Map Ta Phut route and 655-kilometre Chiang Khong-Ban Phachi route which will need a total estimated budget of 741.4 billion baht.

The amount of money needed is not finalised yet, Ms Soithip said. The figures are only a “budget framework” that the Transport Ministry calculated to help them seek approval from the NCPO for the project, she said. 

Further studies into the cost of the project are still needed and it should take about one year to come up with definite numbers, said deputy chief of the Office of Transport and Traffic Policy and Planning Chaiwat Thongkhamkhun.

Earlier, Mr Samart questioned why, in terms of average cost per kilometre, the prices of the two rail route projects are almost equal to those of the controversial high-speed trains proposed during the Yingluck Shinawatra government, which met flak because of their cost.

The average costs of the two rail routes approved by NCPO has been put at 532.66 million baht a kilometre, Mr Samart wrote on his Facebook page.

This figure is not far off the 521 million baht/km required for the Bangkok-Chiang Mai route and 553 million baht/km for the route from Bangkok to Prachuap Khiri Khan’s Hua Hin district, two of the four high-speed train projects, he said.

Mr Samart believes the average costs of the two rail routes, to be built for trains with a speed of 160km/ph, should be cheaper than the figure given because their tracks are not designed to serve trains that travel between 250km/ph and 300km/ph.

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