Fast trains to nowhere in Southeast Asia

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi urged Thailand on a July 24 visit to strengthen “cooperation in the construction of the China-Thai railway,” calling the kingdom “a very important partner” in China’s One Belt One Road initiative.

Yi did not make clear, at least in his press statement, where the cooperation needed to be strengthened, but better coordination between Thailand and its neighbors would be a good starting point.

Last month coup-installed Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha used his extraordinary powers under Article 44 of the military’s interim constitution to push through the long-delayed China-Thai high-speed train project, sweeping aside certain legal obstacles such as Thai regulations barring Chinese engineers from working on the project without local licenses.

The project, which has been on government drawing boards since 2010, is still a far cry from securing a high-speed link between Thailand and China any time soon.

Under its current design the Sino-Thai high-speed rail will provide a 252.5-kilometer-long link between Bangkok and Nakhon Ratchasima, the largest city in northeastern Thailand. The project will be financed by Thailand, costing an estimated 179 billion baht (US$5.4 billion.)

The train’s top speed will be 250 kilometers per hour, averaging 180 kph, a slow pace for high-speed trains which can reach up to 380 kph elsewhere. Thailand, which has no experience with building high-speed railways, will use a Thai contractor to build the tracks while hiring Chinese experts to do the detailed design, construction consulting and engineering.

Exact details of the deal have not been publicly disclosed but observers anticipate Thailand will purchase Chinese trains and equipment for the rail.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (L) and Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha (R) at Government House in Bangkok, July 24, 2017….

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