Rail Transport : Thailand’s Future Development Plan

Rail transportation carrying cargoes for distribution nationwide

Logistics system proves a factor of improved commercial and investment competitiveness for every business as it constitutes the core cost for operators in the agricultural, industrial and service sectors.  This is even more evident considering the repercussions of fossil fuel energy crisis represented by oil prices on the global economy.  Thus, streamlining logistics management has become something worth considering.  There are multiple approaches to achieve this, be it reducing dead mileage or dead heading through backhaul management, using alternative energy in lieu of conventional fossil fuels or using GPS systems to plan transport routes, among others.  At any rate, one should keep in mind that well-analyzed and properly chosen mode of transport, be it by land, by water or by rail, befitting the natures of goods and/or business needs is also a means to achieve ‘justified’ logistics costs.  Still, Thailand’s infrastructure is not quite yet conducive to effective transport modes as operators might expect.  Therefore, logistics costs in Thailand seem to still be on the high side in comparison with those in her trading partner countries.

Rail freight transport came into existence after WWII (in the reign of King Chulalongkorn, Rama V). The first line, from Bangkok to Samut Prakan Province, covering a distance of 21 km was launched in 1886.  Inauguration of rail services on the Bangkok – Ayutthaya line covering a distance of 71 km was held on March 26, 1896, the date which was officially declared later as the official State Railways Day to commemorate its establishment. Rail freight transport enables transport of large volumes of goods per trip, thereby causing transportation cost per unit to be lower than that incurred via other transport modes as well as less pollution than transport by road.  Goodsmost popularly transported by rail usually are of low value but have heavy weight such as cement and petroleum products.  The major drawbacks to rail freight transport, however, are the long time it takes to travel and also the need for high-impact resistant packaging materials to cope with repeated loading/unloading occurring at the train station and destination station.  Most importantly, limitations as regards railroad tracks (limited routes) are a cause for less reliability on the part of rail freight transport in comparison with other transport modes as priority has to be given to passengers rather than goods.

The National Economic and Social Development Board first came up with Thailand’s logistics system development strategy in 2005 with constant detail development in the following years up to 2009.  This was in line with the five-year Thailand’s Logistics System Development Strategic Plan 2007-2011     which specifies that the country be equipped with logistics system of international standards if it is to become the business and commercial hub of Indochina Region.  In this connection, emphases have been put on reduced logistics cost, boosted business competency in responding to customer needs, increased safety and reliability in goods and service delivery and added economic value in the areas of logistics and downstream  industries.  The move was markedly the turning point in Thailand’s logistics system.
Based on the government policy covering the Ministry of Transport and development plans at various levels, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) passed a resolution in July 2014 to endorse in principle the seven-year Thailand’s Transport Infrastructure Development Strategy 2015 – 2022 (drafted by the Office of Transport and Traffic Policy and Planning – OTP).  The strategy has a four-fold objective comprising the foundation of social security,the foundation of economic security, strengthened travel and transport security and safety and opportunity creation for optimized benefits following the realization of the ASEAN Community.  From this derive five master plans as follows: 1) development of intercity rail links; 2) development of public transport network to solve traffic problems in Bangkok and its perimeter; 3) increased road and highway capacity to link major domestic production bases with those in the neighboring countries; 4) development of water transport network; and 5) increased capacity of air freight services.
The above is tocoincide with the short-term action plan 2016 covering a link between transport network and trade gateway and between major regional cities and Bangkok and its perimeter, the development of rail transport infrastructure through improved double-track railway infrastructure along six routes having heavy traffic and the setting of new standard for the construction of double-track 1,435 mm (standard gauge) railway on two routes.  Realization of said action plan will mean a step forward in overcoming rail freight transport limitations pertaining to the routes.
In any case, the State Railway of Thailand currently has 4,346 km of track, including the 31-km Bangkok – Rangsit double-tracked and 59-km Rangsit – Ban Phachi Junction triple-tracked lines.  Major lines are as follows:
  1. Northeastern Line to Ubon Ratchathani Province (Ubon Ratchathani Train Station in Warin Chamrap District), 575 km from Bangkok, and Nong Khai Province plus a connection from Nong Khai to Thanalaeng Station (Lao People’s Democratic Republic), a total distance of 627.5 km 
  2. Northern Line to Chiang Mai Station, Chiang Mai Province, and Sawankhalok Station, Sukhothai Province, 751 km from Bangkok
  3. 3. Southern Line starting from Bangkok Station to Narathiwat Province (Su-ngai Kolok Station in Su-ngai Kolok District), covering a distance of 1,159 km from Bangkok, and Songkhla Province (Padang Besar Station), 974 km from Bangkok.  From here, a line branches to connect with the Malaysian railway to Singapore.  The main line also branches to Trang Province (Kantang Station, Kantang District), 850 km from Bangkok, and Nakhon Si Thammarat Province (Nakhon Si Thammarat Station), 816 km from Bangkok
  4. Eastern Line to Sa Kaeo Province (Aranyaprathet Station), 255 km from Bangkok, and Rayong Province at Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate (Map Ta Phut Station), 200 km from Bangkok
  5. Western Line from Thon Buri Station to Kanchanaburi Province (Namtok Station, Sai Yok District), 194 km from Bangkok, and Suphan Buri Province (Suphan Buri Station), 157 km from Bangkok
  6. Mae Klong Line covering a distance of 31 km between Wongwian Yai Station and Mahachai Station and a distance of 34 km between Ban Laem Station and Mae Klong Station

Despite the rail routes covering all regions of the country, limitations pertaining to rail freight transport in Thailand remain to be tackled due to a series of hindering factors, be they a scarcity of locomotives or certain regulations not being conducive to business operations.  Therefore, business operators must closely keep abreast of development projects the government has decided to implement because the modes of transport, be they by land, by water, by air or by rail, are factors worth the operators’ consideration to ensure transportation-cost effectiveness and, in turn, a logistics system that genuinely contributes to value addition and higher levels of business competitiveness.

Compiled by  BLOG.SCGLogistics
Reference and Picture by  แผนพัฒนาโครงวร้างพื้นฐานด้านคมนาคมขนส่งของไทยและแผนปฏิบัติการด้านคมนาคมขนส่งระยะเร่งด่วนของสำนักงานนโยบายและแผนการขนส่งและจราจร-สนข., sme.go.th, pixabay.com (account tebielyc), wikipedia.org, logisticscorner.com
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