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Skytrain takes off with a bang

01 Jan 2000

Fireworks, a baby elephant, dancers carrying a royal barge mock-up, and two Russian ballet dancers joined forces in a spectacular celebration to mark completion of the world's first modern metro network to be totally funded by the private sector.

THAILAND: On December 1 over 300 guests from around the world joined turnkey contractors Siemens and Italian-Thai Development Co to celebrate the handover of Skytrain to Bangkok Metropolitan Administration and operating concessionaire Bangkok Transit System Corp.

The BOT agreement provides for the infrastructure to be transferred to BMA on completion, and the rolling stock and other systems at the end of the 30-year operating concession. To mark the transfer, a symbolic key was handed over by Siemens AG Vice-President Hans-Dieter Bott and Italian-Thai President Premchai Karnasuta to BTSC Chairman Kasame Chatikavanij and Bangkok Governor Dr Bhichit Rattakul. Revenue operation began on December 5.

Concession deal

Under the concession signed in April 1992, BTSC is responsible for financing the US$1·7bn project. Local development company Tanayong provided 51% of the US$650m equity. The bulk of the money came in the form of domestic and international loans, raised by Siam Commercial Bank (US$550m), Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (US$450m) and the International Finance Corp (US$50m).

BTSC Chief Operating Officer Dr Karoon Changdransu says the company needs to attract 680000 riders a day to cover operating and debt servicing costs of 18m baht per day. To achieve this, the proposed flat fare has been replaced by a distance-related structure ranging from 10 to 40 baht, within the upper limits of 15 to 45 baht imposed by BMA.

The 35 three-car trains were built by Siemens' Wien-based subsidiary SGP, with electrical equipment from Erlangen and bogies from Graz. Doors were supplied by Faiveley, and current collectors by Ferraz. Traction power is provided at 750V DC from an aluminium/steel bottom-contact third rail, and fed through IGBT converters to AC motors driving each axle of the outer cars.

The stations have been built to accommodate six-car trains. Two units can run together, but in the longer term, the trains are designed to be extended to six-car formations by the addition of two motor cars and another trailer. Magnetic stripe ticketing is from Cubic (below left).

The Operations Control Centre and BTS administration building are located alongside Mo Chit depot. The trains are equipped for full automatic train operation, although each carries a driver to close the doors and initiate departure.

The 16·8 km Sukhumvit line has 17 stations and the 6·3 km Silom line has seven. Although the signalling is designed for 2 min headways, peak-hour services run every 21/2 min on the Sukhumvit and every 31/2 min on the Silom line. This requires 26 and 7 trains respectively, leaving only two spares. With each train able to carry 1106 passengers at 8/m2, this equates to 26500 and 15000 passengers/h per direction.

Skytrain is the first of Bangkok's many metro projects to reach fruition, and during the opening ceremonies, Governor Bhichit described it as 'the backbone of transportation in the Bangkok region.' More schemes feature on 10 separate master plans drawn up by different government bodies, and the governor looked forward to the creation of 'a really comprehensive network.' He announced that the Thai cabinet had approved proposals for construction of nine out of 11 feeder lines to connect with Skytrain. Top priority will be a line along Klong Chong Nonsi to feed the Silom line.

Tunnelling is already under way on the MTRA Blue line, but concessionaire Karnachang has yet to select an M&E supplier. Siemens holds the contract to equip the Red line routes promoted by Hopewell subsidiary BERTS, but these are on hold pending moves to relaunch the project. Two more routes are envisaged to complete the core network. The 56 km Orange line would form a horseshoe linking Phra Prandang in the southeast, the old city, and Bang Kapi and Min Buri in the northeast. The 17 km Purple line would parallel the Chao Praya river from Krung Thon to Pak Kred.

Skytrain extensions are planned from Mo Chit to Ratchayothin, On Nut to Bang Na, and Saphan Taksim to Phonimit and Bang Khun Thian. Two extensions to the Blue line are envisaged, from Bang Sue northwest to Nonthaburi and west from Hua-Lampong across the river to Bang Khae.

Completion of all these projects would give Bangkok no less than 240 route-km of metro by 2011. However, given the rocky ride that almost derailed BTSC following the 1997 Asian economic crisis, no-one is suggesting where the money will come from for such an ambitious programme. 

More details of the Bangkok Skytrain can be found in the article by BTSC Chief Operating Officer Dr Karoon Changdransu in Metro Report 1999 p32. Details of the trains were published in RG 6.98 p409.