21st April 2016: At the time of writing Bangkok has a single line on its metro system, which is the Blue Line running from Bang Sue railway station in the north of the city through to Hua Lamphong train station, Bangkok’s main railway terminus. Later in 2016 the Purple Line running from Khong Bang Phai to Tao Poon is set to open to passengers.
And now funding has granted for the construction of a third line, the Orange line, which will connect Taling Chan on the Western side of the city to Min Buri in the Eastern suburbs of Bangkok.
Project to be undertaken in two halves
The Thai Government has decided to tackle this ambitious project in two halves. The first half, funding for which was approved by the cabinet of the current military government on Tuesday 19th April 2016, will start about half way along the planned route and run through to Min Buri – this is the eastern section of the Orange line. The starting point for this first section of the line is going to be the existing Thailand Cultural Centre MRT (metro) station. Which makes perfect sense to us as this is the station where the new line will intersect with the existing Blue line.
Why the Eastern Half Before the Western Half
What makes less sense is the decision to construct the Eastern half before the Western half. The Western half will connect parts of Bangkok which are not currently on Bangkok’s mass transport network, allowing commuters and tourists easier access to Thonburi railway station, the Khao San road area, and the riverside area where the Grand Palace and major temples are located. This section is likely, when constructed, to bring the biggest benefits and see the highest passenger numbers.
The Western Half Will Be More Difficult to Build
To be fair to the Thai government, and the MRTA (the public authority in charge of the system), constructing the western section of the line is going to be a much more challenging task than the eastern section. Firstly, this section has 19 planned stations whilst the eastern section has a mere 10. Secondly, the geography is more challenging for the engineers involved: there is wide river to go under, and water logged ground which will need to drained and supported whilst tunnelling work is completed. Thirdly, and most significantly, the Orange line will travel through some very densely populated area with very old communities. Much of eastern Bangkok is a new addition to the city – 70 years ago it was largely rice paddy fields. By way of contrast, the communities in western Bangkok are far older – some hundreds of years old – as are the buildings. Getting these people to move to make way for a new underground railway line is going to much more of a challenge, and it may do significant damage to the city’s cultural heritage. In a very real sense the Orange line involves replacing the old with the new, and the issue has the potential to become a symbolic one in a wider debate about the modernisation of Thailand and the erosion of traditional lifestyles.
Tough Job to Build the Orange Line
It is going to take some nerve and resilience on the part of the Thai government and the MRTA to make the final push to complete the Orange line, and maybe a delay will be for the good to allow the people living on the planned western section to come to terms with the need to move and arrangements for suitable alternative housing can be properly thought through.