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NEWS UPDATES 28 July 2010

Thai high-speed rail

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The Thai government could join with the Chinese government to build the country's first high-speed rail network, Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij says. Korn told the Bangkok Post the two countries were looking to cooperate in a government-to-government joint venture to build a high-speed rail line from Bangkok to Rayong on the Eastern Seaboard.

The Chinese government would be responsible for capital and investment costs in the rail system, with the Thai side responsible for procuring land. Deputy Premier Suthep Thaugsuban discussed the investment programme with Chinese authorities during a visit to Beijing last week. Science and Technology Minister Virachai Virameteekul, who also accompanied Mr. Suthep on the trip, said the Thai delegation held talks on ways to improve bilateral rail links and the high-speed rail project with Lin Zhijun, China's railway minister.

China suggested a joint-venture model as the quickest means of completing a high-speed rail project, Mr. Virachai said, adding that China had used a similar framework in developing a rail system in Laos. The joint venture, which would have to be approved by the cabinet, could seek funding from the financial markets for construction. Mr. Virachai said a working committee for the project may be established next month.

Mr. Korn said the high-speed rail programme would be a key pillar in the government's plans to improve infrastructure networks, cut logistics costs and strengthen the medium-term competitiveness of the Thai economy.

The rail line, which would run 240 kilometres from Makkasan in central Bangkok to Rayong, would likely include four stops and run through Chachoengsao. Total travel time would be only one hour, compared with up to three hours now by road.

Mr. Korn estimated the entire project could be completed within three years. Thailand is also looking to establish a working group with the Chinese government to coordinate building additional rail and transport links to facilitate trade and investment flows across the region.

"Altogether, the State Railway of Thailand will invest over 200 billion baht in upgrades over the next five years, with the target of doubling the average speed of our rail system. We have to rid the system of bottlenecks," said Mr Korn.

He said another regional project would create a standard-gauge rail link from China to Nong Khai at the northeastern border, which in turn would facilitate rail transport running from China down to Malaysia, enabling more regional trade.

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