High-speed line final bids due by year-end

Auctions for the three remaining stretches of the Thai-Chinese high-speed railway’s first phase from Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima will be concluded by the end of the year, according to a State Railway of Thailand (SRT) source.

The source said auctions for the project’s second stretch, from Pak Chong to Khanan Chit — both of which are in Nakhon Ratchasima — will commence in May, after a final draft of the stretch’s specifications is concluded.

The plans are reportedly awaiting minor amendments and additional information from Chinese representatives, which the source said will be provided next week.

Contract signing with the auction winners for the second, 11km-long stretch, valued at around 10 billion baht, will happen in July.

The Bangkok-Nakhon Ratchasima phase has thus far been valued at around 180 billion baht. Land clearing for the phase’s pilot 3.5km stretch from Klang Dong to Pang Asok in Nakhon Ratchasima began last December.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha presided over the stretch’s opening ceremony on Dec 21 in Klang Dong. The ceremony was also attended by the vice chairman of China’s National Development and Reform Commission, Wang Xiao Tao.

The SRT source said Tuesday that the pilot stretch, valued at around 425 million baht, is currently awaiting a settlement between the SRT and the Public Debt Management Office regarding funds to be used for its construction.

Funds will be transferred to the Department of Highways, who will oversee the construction of the 3.5km stretch this month, according to the source.

The source added construction could be complete sometime in June or July.

As for the first phase’s third 119km stretch, from Kaeng Khoi in Saraburi to Nakhon Ratchasima, Chinese representatives are due to submit designs by June.

According to the source, the SRT will then be able to draft up auctioning documents the following month, with auctioning to begin in August.

Designs for the final stretch of the Bangkok-Nakhon Ratchasima route from Bang Sue to Kaeng Khoi will be submitted by China in August.

Auctioning for the route, also 119km long, will commence within the last quarter of this year, the source said.

As per government-to-government agreements with China, Thailand will be responsible for 100% of the funds for the first phase while China will oversee the project’s overall designs.

Chinese architects and engineers last year passed exams testing their skills and understanding of Thailand’s geography issued by the Architect Council of Thailand and the Council of Engineers.

Upon the first phases’ completion in either late 2021 or early 2022, the Bangkok-Nakhon Ratchasima route will have six stations. They are Bang Sue, Don Muang, Ayutthaya, Saraburi, Pak Chong and Nakhon Ratchasima.

Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith said last year ticket prices for the first phase will cost a maximum of 535 baht from the first to last station.

The Bang Sue-Don Muang commute will cost 105 baht, 195 baht for Ayutthaya, 279 baht for Saraburi and 393 baht for Pak Chong, according to Mr Arkhom.

The Thai-Chinese high-speed railway’s second phase, stretching from Nakhon Ratchasima to Nong Khai, is still in its early planning stages. At 354km long, it will complete the entire Bangkok-Nongkhai route, which is set to stretch a total of 606km.

Meanwhile, the cabinet Tuesday approved the SRT’s request to extend its loan of 800 million baht with Krungthai Bank for one more year, said Deputy Transport Minister Pailin Chuchottaworn.

According to him, the request was prompted by the SRT as a precaution for cases where the authority lacks cash due to its lack of liquidity, which could lead to difficulty in serving its passengers.

The authority requests overdraft loans on a yearly basis, each of which must first gain the cabinet’s approval in cases where the loans exceed five million baht.

The SRT is currently over 100 billion baht in debt, ranking it among the highest indebted state-owned Thai companies.

The government’s revival plan for seven state enterprises to reduce their debt, including Thai Airways International Plc and the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority, has prompted regular meetings with the State Enterprise Policy Office (Sepo).

Mr Pailin said Tuesday a Sepo meeting will take place in two weeks’ time.