Pattaya rail project delayed “by years”

Hopes that a high-speed railway from Rayong to Bangkok, stopping at Pattaya, have taken a back seat after official preference was given to the 250-kilometre-per-hour Chiang Mai to Bangkok route. Thailand’s military government has announced that there will be a joint project with Japan to link the northern Thai city with the metropolis. The line will be 715 kilometres long and is scheduled to open in 2019 at an initial cost of 400 billion baht. The formal agreement between the two countries was signed earlier this month in Tokyo.

Although Japan has expressed interest in the Rayong to Bangkok route, there is no specific memorandum of cooperation and the offer from Tokyo is still being studied by Thailand’s transport authorities. In general terms, Thailand and Japan have agreed to work together to develop and upgrade the railway system and to improve connectivity within the corridor linking Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Low interest loans from Japan are a vital element of these plans.

Effectively, the decision pushes back into the next decade any prospect of an improved Rayong to Bangkok rail link. It had been hoped that the high-speed connection linking Rayong and Pattaya with the capital would be an important step in helping to solve the Eastern Seaboard’s transport woes. But it is not even clear that the eventual rail link will include a scheduled stop at Pattaya. Critics say that the current rail station, just off Siam Country Club Road, is too far out of town to be an effective hub.

There has been speculation that a monorail could be built to connect Pattaya railway station with downtown areas as well as Jomtien. However, there has been no detailed planning or costing and the whole issue appears to have faded from prominent debate. The monorail plan was in any case opposed by the proprietors of many small businesses in Central Pattaya who feared the loss of income if fewer people were walking the streets. Defenders of the monorail idea say that the plan would reduce the number of vehicles on Pattaya’s roads.

Hopes of infrastructure improvement in Pattaya are now centered on the Sukhumvit underpass which is scheduled for completion in 2018 and is expected to provide a clear run for traffic not intending to venture into Central Pattaya or the beach areas. Company spokespersons say that the work is proceeding according to schedule, although critics point to the wind-down of digging activity every weekend. Traffic jams on city roads have noticeably increased since Sukhumkvit lane closures were introduced.

Meanwhile, the Thai Cabinet has approved an investment of 1.8 billion baht by the Ports Authority to expand Laem Chabang deepwater seaport, situated 25 kilometres north of Pattaya. This will include the expansion of the port’s basic infrastructure and investment on major lifting and logistical equipment. Laem Chabang is the busiest port in Thailand and the 22nd busiest in the entire world. It also hosts 200 industrial companies and an ExxonMobil refinery.

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