BANGKOK -- Thai and Chinese officials on Wednesday signed an agreement for a 50.6 billion baht ($1.62 billion) segment of a high-speed rail line, part of Beijing's Belt and Road cross-border infrastructure initiative.
The contract involving State Railway of Thailand and state-owned enterprises China Railway and China Railway Design covers part of the roughly 253 km initial stage between Bangkok and the northeastern Thai province of Nakhon Ratchasima.
Negotiations lasted more than a year, as the parties struggled to make headway over costs and the currency used to set the terms. A broad agreement reportedly had been reached by May, but the signing was delayed partly due to the disruption from the coronavirus pandemic.
Both sides aim to complete the first segment in 2026. Wednesday's contract includes technical cooperation and worker training, a Thai government spokesperson said.
Speaking at Wednesday's signing ceremony, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha expressed hope that the rail line will strengthen ties with China and "promote economic prosperity and transport connectivity."
Broader plans call for a high-speed railway running from Bangkok to Nong Khai Province on the border with Laos.
The Chinese side envisions this line forming part of a "Pan-Asia Railway Network" that would connect Kunming in southern China with Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.
In Thailand, work began in December 2017 on a 3.5 km segment of the railway starting in Nakhon Ratchasima.