Board scraps ToR for B96bn rail plan

Gripes spur reboot of double-track scheme

Hua Hin is in two of the five projects scheduled to upgrade railway tracks from single to double lines, but all have now been abruptly halted.

The so-called "scrutiny superboard", overseeing the multi-billion-baht state procurement projects, has decided to scrap the terms of reference (ToR) for five controversial double-track railway projects as part of its move to eliminate alleged irregularities.

New ToR as well as new bidding procedures will be drafted.

The decision must be agreed upon by the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) board before it can be forwarded to the cabinet for a final say. The drafting of the new ToR would then begin.

"I've already informed the SRT board chairman on the phone about what we've decided," Prasarn Trairatvorakul, the chairman of the scrutiny superboard, said Monday.

The SRT board is scheduled to meet the scrutiny superboard again Wednesday for a final talk, he said.

The decision came exactly 10 days after Mr Prasarn and the superboard had announced they were ready to announce "the most appropriate" terms of reference for the upgrade.

Mr Prasarn, a former the Bank of Thailand governor, has been appointed to lead the scrutiny superboard set up under a Section 44 order issued by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, following doubts over transparency of the five double-track projects worth 95.8 billion baht.

The five project are the 19-billion-baht Nakhon Pathom-Hua Hin section, the 23-billion-baht Lop Buri-Pak Nam Pho section, the 28-billion-bhat Map Kabao-Thanon Chira Junction section, the 9.8-billion-baht Hua Hin-Prachuap Khiri Khan section and the 16-billion-baht Phrachuap Khiri Khan-Chumphon section.

Previously, the SRT proposed four new bidding options to the superboard for consideration. The proposals focus on reviewing of the old ToR.

The superboard last week invited railway engineering experts and representatives from companies which had withdrawn from the previous bids for the projects to discuss problems they may have, following which the superboard came up with what Mr Prasarn called on Monday the "fifth option".

The provides a "more beautiful" path toward the bidding for the five projects, as it will resolve complaints against the ToR, he said.

Earlier a Chinese constructor who teamed up with a middle-sized Thai construction company lodged a complaint with Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak after they failed to qualify for SRT consideration.

Reportedly, the ToR of the five projects has been accused of being drafted to favour certain construction companies described as "a group of familiar giant firms", according to a source.

The complaint led to the inspection of alleged irregularities in the SRT, urging Gen Prayut to exercise Section 44 to remove the SRT governor and set up the Prasarn panel. It delayed the SRT's announcement of companies qualified for the bidding of the five projects and prompted the revision of the ToR. The fifth option will cause the projects to be delayed by five to six months but it would still be faster than the SRT proposal of seven or eight, said Mr Prasarn.

The SRT later came up with the four new bidding process options. It maintained the original bidding procedure in which civil work, track construction and signal installation have been grouped into one contract for faster construction as one of the options.

Three other options offer different ways of forming contracts. They divide contracts into smaller ones, separating different types of construction work into different contracts.

According to a source, one of these three options separate track construction and signal installation from civil work. It has a maximum of 15 contracts.

The new options will lead to different bidding periods ranging from four and a half months to eight months before the agency signs contracts with constructors, acting SRT governor Anon Luangboriboon said earlier.

However, all the four options failed to get the green light from the scrutiny superboard.

Mr Prasarn said his group prefers the contract division idea, but at the same time, it needs to ensure fairer competition by solving the problem where middle-sized companies, with limited budgets, are blocked from joining the bidding.

The fifth option will ensure these companies their right to participate, he said.

It will depend on the SRT board which will decide whether it will agree with the scrutiny superboard's proposal.

Mr Prasarn said he expects the current path to the bid to likely be scrapped to open the way for a new process.

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