PLANS TO invest up to 900bn baht in rail projects over the next five years were announced by Thailand’s Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on August 28. Following a meeting to consider national energy strategy, he said better rail transport would cut car use, saving the country an estimated 2500bn baht in fuel costs over the next decade.

Thaksin envisages that 500bn baht will be spent on urban projects around Bangkok. The other 400bn will go on upgrading and double-tracking 3000 route-km of SRT’s trunk lines from the capital to Chiang Mai, Narathiwat, Rayong, Nong Khai and Ubon Ratchathani. He hopes that the works can be completed by 2007.

Urban rail projects include extending the BTS Skytrain Sukhumvit line by 8·9 km from On Nut to Samring and the Silom line by 6·8 km to Phetkasem Road in Thon Buri. The underground metro now nearing completion would be extended from Bang Sue to Phra Nangklao in the northwest and from Hua Lampong westwards to Tha Phra, with a new line linking Huay Kwang and Min Buri. The disused piers for the proposed Hopewell scheme would be used to elevate SRT tracks in Bangkok and eliminate level crossing conflicts.

Transport Minister Suriya Jungrungreangkit confirmed on August 30 that the Office of Transport & Traffic Policy had been instructed to review existing plans for the different schemes, and to discuss with the Ministry of Finance and National Economic & Social Development Board ways to speed up their implementation.

SRT Governor Chisanti Dhanasobhon said top priority for the double-tracking programme would be the busy freight line from Chachoengsao to Si Racha and the port of Laem Chabang. This work is costed at around 5bn baht. Meanwhile, the railway is seeking approval to buy 38 new diesel locos over the next three years at a cost of 3·8bn baht.