Monday, February 2, 2015

Future of Dawei railway project uncertain

IHS Maritime 360, Michael Mackey 30 January 2015

A key official has expressed scepticism about the Thai government's plans to let Japan build a cross-country railway.

Thailand and Japan have agreed in principle to jointly develop a 1.435m standard-gauge rail network that will connect a border village in Kanchanaburi in Thailand's east with Cambodia on its west, The Bangkok Post reported on Wednesday. This has been partially confirmed by government sources.

"It's (the railway project) going to be tough," Chula Sukmanop, Director-General of the Office of Transport and Traffic Policy and Planning told IHS Maritime in a short interview. "The investment cost is high," explained Chula.

The second problem, he said, is the lack of a proven need for the East-West route.

"Demand on the route is not great at the moment," he said, pointing out that even road infrastructure is lagging behind.

Thailand's Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha met Hiroto Izumi, Special Advisor (Economic Affairs) to the Prime Minister of Japan at Government House in Bangkok on Tuesday - a meeting that was dominated by rail-related issues, according to a Thai government communiqué.

"The Thai Prime Minister has also proposed possible rail routes. They have included Bangkok to Kanjanaburi, Bangkok to Aranyaprathet and Bangkok to Rayong, which are all routes along the East-West corridor. Both Ministries of Transport will need to hold further discussions on this matter," the communiqué added.

Thai Finance Minister Sommai Phasee also confirmed Thailand's ambitious East-West infrastructure plans.

"Firstly we have to improve the road from Dawei," he said of the yet to be built mega-port in neighbouring Myanmar.

"It would be very good to have a big port there. Infrastructure development is one of the main aims of this government," he said at a gathering of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand attended by IHS Maritime.