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Asia Minute: Thai Train Targets Tighter Timetable

Joe Lewis
CC BY-SA 2.0 / Flickr
High-speed rail in Taiwan

A multi-billion-dollar train project is now expected to begin operations slightly sooner than expected. It’s not the Honolulu Rail Project, but a massive development across the Pacific Ocean.

The first phase of a high-speed rail project linking Thailand and China should be in operation within four years.

That word came from a government spokesman from Thailand, which is paying 5.9 billion dollars for that initial leg — stretching roughly 115 miles north from Bangkok.

It’s part of a longer Thai-Chinese project running nearly 550 miles beyond Bangkok — through Laos and into China. And even that is just a section of a much longer project, a rail link going from Kunming in southwest China’s Yunnan Province all the way down to Singapore — at the southern tip of the Malaysian peninsula.

The Thai portion of the rail was delayed several years ago when government leaders in Bangkok hesitated on the financing of the deal — done through Chinese banks.

The Thai government wanted a lower interest rate, and eventually got the offer of a low-interest loan from China’s Export-Import Bank.

Even so, critics say there’s a risk that this project will plunge Thailand’s government deep into debt and financial obligation to China – while the rail line itself may offer uncertain economic returns.

The South China Morning Post reports the second phase of the project involving Thailand will mostly be financed by international banks.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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