April 25, 2015 6:26 am JST
Working on the railroad

Thais eye Japanese bullet trains for north-south route

JUN ENDO, Nikkei staff writer

TOKYO -- Thailand could use Japanese bullet trains in its planned north-south rail link, Deputy Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith told The Nikkei here Friday.

     The high-speed link proposed by Thailand's military-led government runs between Bangkok and the northern city of Chiang Mai, about 700km away. The project is seen costing some 430 billion baht ($13.2 billion). It will likely be undertaken by a joint Thai-Japanese effort, Arkhom said.

     Thailand could develop the land, while tracks, stations and rolling stock could fall under Japan's purview.

     "We will decide how to divide the costs at a future time," Arkhom said.

     He expressed hopes of signing a memorandum of understanding with Japan as early as May to launch a formal feasibility study.

     The two sides would then spend about a year evaluating the project's safety and possible environmental impact before deciding whether to go ahead with Japanese trains.

     "We hope to start construction within 2016 if all goes well," Arkhom said, with a possible completion date of 2020.

     Large cities including Ayutthaya and Sukhothai are along the planned route, which could draw demand from both businesspeople and tourists. But the entire undertaking could fall through if recovering investment appears too high a hurdle. Yingluck Shinawatra's interest in Japanese trains as prime minister came to nothing in the end.

     Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Thai counterpart Prayuth Chan-ocha agreed here in February to cooperate on railroad construction in the Southeast Asian country. Japan has since pushed for the use of its bullet trains.

     Tokyo has also proposed a southern route along a major east-west trade artery, with the possibility of speeding up transportation to and from the Dawei special economic zone in Myanmar. Thailand and Japan are also in talks toward a memorandum in this area, Arkhom said.

     Thailand plans to build a separate north-south rail link with China, with which it agreed to cooperate on rail projects last December. Bangkok hopes to strike a diplomatic balance between the two Asian powerhouses by reaching a deal with Tokyo as well.

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