US$5.2 billion first phase of China-Thailand railway project facing further delays, reports say

Construction of 250km section of high-speed link now unlikely to start this year as environmental authorities in Bangkok have yet to grant approval

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 October, 2017, 4:24pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 October, 2017, 10:59pm

The US$5.2 billion first phase of a Sino-Thai high-speed railway project could be delayed until the new year due to problems with environmental approval in Bangkok.

Construction had been expected to start next month, but that is now unlikely as Thailand’s environmental authorities have yet to give the project the green light, China’s CCTV reported on Friday, citing Thai media.

Experts need to evaluate potential areas of concern, and construction will not be allowed to start until an environmental impact study has been completed, the report said.

Thailand approves long-delayed US$5.2b rail link to China

The first phase of the deal is a line running about 250km from the Thai capital to Nakhon Ratchasima in the country’s northeast. Under the deal, Thailand will own the project and be responsible for financing its construction, while China will design it, and provide engineers, track systems and equipment.

The first phase is part of a massive railway development project under China’s ambitious “Belt and Road Initiative”, which once completed will stretch more than 1,260km from Bangkok to southern China.

Engineers put brakes on Chinese-Thai rail plan

Despite the ambition, the first phase of the project has been halted and resurrected several times over issues such as cost, investment-sharing and development rights. The two sides have engaged in more than 20 rounds of talks in a bid to iron out concerns such as the demands of Thai engineers for technology transfers from China, the legal challenge of building on designated farmland, and national security issues.

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha finally approved funding for the first phase of the project in July after invoking Article 44 of his military government’s interim constitution, which gives him the power to execute administrative orders without legal restrictions.

Thailand’s Deputy Transport Minister Pichit Akrathit said last month that construction work on the railway was likely to begin in November.