Progress on the construction of a new railway line to Chiang Rai

UPDATE 2024: No further significant progress has been made in the construction of a railway line between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.

1 August 2021: Construction work on a new railway line between Den Chai and Chiang Khong via Chiang Rai is likely to commence before the end of the the year.

About the Railway Line to Chiang Rai

Plans to build a train line to Chiang Rai and on to Chiang Khong were first approved by the Thai Government in 2018 and bidding on the contracts to carry out the construction work has concluded, although the results are being scrutinised further before the winners are announced and the contracts to commence work are signed. Chiang Khong is on the border with Laos and the new line will improve international connectivity, and it will also open up the upper part of Northern Thailand to visitors promoting local tourism opportunities.

Wat Rong Seur Ten is Chiang Rai's Blue Temple
Wat Rong Seur Ten is Chiang Rai’s Blue Temple

The new line to Chiang Rai and Chiang Khong starts from Den Chai, which is a stop on the existing Northern Line from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Den Chai is currently the connection point for bus services to Phrae, which be one of the stops on route to Chiang Khong. The new stretch of track will be 323 km long and involves digging four major new tunnels, two near Phrae with a combined length of 7.5 km, one near Phayao and a furth near Chiang Rai. These tunnels will be challenging but less so than the longest train tunnel in Thailand, which is 5.2 km long, which was recently completed in Saraburi.

Letting of the Construction Contracts

The total estimated cost of the new railway line to Chiang Khong is 72.9 Billion baht. The work is being split into three contracts each relating to different sections of the track with the three winning bidders working on their respective section of the track simultaneously:

  • Den Chai to Ngao
  • Ngao to Chiang Rai
  • Chiang Rai to Chiang Khong

Full Steam Ahead?

The online bid for all three construction projects has finished, however, the tendering process has yet to be concluded with award of contract. Several prominent politicians have complained about the results and the Government has appointed a committee to investigate, which is still deliberating.

The reason for concern is that the winning bids came in a very short way under the target price, 0.08%. There are a limited number of companies capable of carrying out the work and the three contracts appear to have split equally between the three largest groups which bid. The accusation is that these companies have colluded so that they each bid for all three sections between agree between themselves in advance what each will bid, driving up the price. whether this is true or not is something the Thai government will need to decide on before any track begins to be laid.

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