31 July 2017: The Italian-Thai Development Public Company Limited is now the favoured company amongst the 11 bidding for contract to construct a second track on the stretch of Thailand’d Southern Railway Line between Hua Hin and Prachuap Khiri. The contract is set to be finalised in August 2017 with construction starting possibly as soon as September 2017.
At the present time Thailand’s Southern Railway Line consists of a single track with trains running both North and South using the same track. This single track configuration inhibits the speed at which trains can run along the Southern Line because they need to wait in the few places along way where there is dual track already in place for trains travelling in the opposite direction to pass.
If trains are delayed this has a knock on effect as it means the wait for trains passing in the opposite direction can become frustratingly long (sometimes over an hour) and this problem frequently means that all train services on the line become subject to delays resulting in long waits for passengers.
Hua Hin to Prachuap Khiri Khan
The existing single track railway line from Hua Hin to Prachuap Khiri Khan runs a distance of 84 km. The new second track will run near to the existing track for the entire 84 km from Hua Hin to Prachuap Khiri Khan. The project also involves building 2 new railway bridges and 12 new train stations. The budget set for this project has been set by the State Railways of Thailand at 7.3 billion Thai Baht, although the bid by the Italian-Thai Development Public Company Limited has come in at the lower sum of 5.8 billion Thai Baht.
Italian-Thai Development Public Company Limited
The Italian-Thai Development Corporation Limited was incorporated in 1958 as a joint venture between a Thai investor (Dr Chaijudh Karnasuta) and an Italian Engineer (Giorgio Berlingieri). The company has grown considerably in the last 69 years with its first public listing on the Thai Stock Exchange in 1994 and strong stock performance since then. The Italian-Thai Development Public Company Limited is now one of the major construction companies in South East Asia which has been involved in a wide range infrastructure projects ranging from construction of Thailand’s largest airport, Suvarnabhumi International Airport, to a major role in the construction of the ‘Skytrain’ elevated commuter train network in Bangkok. This long experience always meant that the Italian-Thai Development Public Company Limited was a likely candidate for task of constructing new railways in Thailand.
An Italian Company?
Mr Berlingieri died in 1981 and since then the company has been managed almost exclusively by Thai citizens: despite the name there in no longer any Italian involvement in the running of the company. The major shareholders in the Company are members of the Karnasuta family. The list of major shareholders does not include any Italians.
Analysis of the Project
There is little doubt that the construction of new sections of dual track on Thailand’s Southern Railway Line will improve the speed of train travel in Thailand and also improve safety: trains travelling in opposite directions on the same railway track is a recipe for disaster. However, this major project falls well short of the aspiration to create a high speed railway line connecting Kumming in China to Singapore, see our article on the Pan-Asia Railway Network for more information. The second track which will be constructed does not appear to meet the required specifications for a high speed rail travel and on this basis our assessment is that the Thai Government has decided against building a high speed railway network in favour of building a slightly faster railway network. The Chinese plan to connect China to Singapore with a very quick train service seems to be unravelling as countries on route, such as Thailand, are finding it tremendously difficult both to raise the money to fund high speed railway services, and to justify public expenditure on rail services which are unlikely to be affordable for the majority of it citizens. In this sense the dual track projects being undertaken in Thailand are an intermediate step in the development of a modern intercity railway system of the kind already functioning in Europe, China and Japan.