Saturday, 3 December 2016

Thailand's trains on track?

Khun Sirinya Wattanasukchai writes eloquently in the Bangkok Post article “Handout mentality” on the first 10 second-hand train carriages donated to Thailand and SRT from Japan.

And a further 14 trains, provided for free except for shipping costs, due by next March possibly for the Purple Line.

The Japanese provincial government in Fukuoka also provided free fire engines and that generosity cannot be faulted - but these trains are over 20 years old? Is that really a credible SRT and Thailand 4.0 policy given the glittering success of Bangkok's Skytrain and Metro?

Is Bangkok really going to have secondhand 20 year old trains rumbling along its train tracks - and for how long? Another 20 years?

Surely Thailand and SRT should be urging not just public and private sector investment through SCB or GSB, but also the ADB and AIIB investment banks to deliver a glittering success of the high-speed rail lines? And even sensible and sensitive redevelopment of its Makkasan site as Khun Sirinya wrote recently?

While the secondhand rail carriages could be more effectively used as part of the rail link through Aranyaprathet to Poipet - and the development of the new Cambodian railway. Already the rail link from Sihanoukville port to Phnom Penh is open after the destruction of the Khmer Rouge years.

The link from the Thai border through to Poipet opens the way to relay track to Battambang and Phnom Penh - and deliver a new link through to Ho Chin Minh City. Plus the new train stations and goods depots infrastructure that would need to be cemented in place.

And shouldn't SRT be leading the way in supporting Cambodian railways in opening hispeed links between the ASEAN capitals of Bangkok and Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City and Yangon?

It's absurd in the 21st century that ASEAN's capital cities and ports are still not connected by hispeed rail - or even doubletrack rail that will forever bottleneck the Singapore and KL rail route to Bangkok until it is rectified.

Certainly such links would improve Thailand’s infrastructure rather than more frivolous infrastructure developments such as Dawei, certainly compared to Mergui, or what’s now termed the Train to Nowhere through the Laotian Highlands to Southern China.

24 rail carriages would be a drop in the ocean for Bangkok's rail system but the backbone of the new Cambodian railway and extra support to the Isaan rail system - and the first long-delayed vital link through the ASEAN capitals.

While a Thai-Cambodian bid to ADB and AIIB - with Vietnam's support - would pump strategic funds into the rail network beyond just a few cheap carriages.
Indeed in my politics role here in East Kent shouldn't UK (and EU) and Japan be stepping forward to help with such a bid? As well, JICA and DFID and EU aid support would be a given for Thai and Cambodian railways development beyond just a few train carriages?

Hitachi is the leading Japanese rail company, and a huge success here in Meiji Kent with their HS1 (HiSpeed 1) and Eurostar rail link from their Ashford base which was readied for the 2012 Olympics. It’s a superb service. And Hitachi are on track for developing HS2 and HS3 in the North of England from their North East base just down the road from the Redcar steelworks previously owned by Thailand’s SSI Steel.

Such rail works and the Nissan factory are part of the Northern Powerhouse programme to help heal the North-South divide in UK - not dissimilar to Thailand's North and NorthEast and Deep South divides exposed after the Charter referendum.

Khun Sirinya also makes some interesting points on the fire engines in Bangkok in effect up on bricks and not being used – and being too large for sois - not dissimilar to the scandal of Boris water cannon bought from Germany second-hand and not even working now garaged by Kent Police and heading to the scrapyard to be made into frying pans or car wheel hubs and other auto-parts.

In my politics role I see no reason why Kent Fire Brigade or Kent Ambulance shouldn’t partner with Thailand or Cambodia - and Myanmar will no doubt gain UK and Commonwealth support too - on any spare or no longer needed fire trucks or ambulances?

The UK has tended in the past to provide excess public vehicles to Romania or Morocco but both those nations have secured separate EU infrastructure funding - Morocco already completing its own hispeed railway.

And with Germany and Sweden declaring the end of manufacturing petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030, and this week Paris, Madrid and London declaring electric vehicle only zones by 2025, there is likely to be a one-off surge of available and reconditioned vehicles over the next few years that may be of practical use to Thailand rather than just cheap dumping.

In my Kent politics work I've already helped destroy the Richboro coal power station:

And urged faster closure of Dungeness nuclear power station, and Belgian and French Channel nuclear power stations - many leaking and of the same pricey design as Hinkley the first new UK nuclear power station, in 30 years.

And to sell off KCC tobacco and fossil fuel investments in public sector pensions. Plus develop Climate Change treeplanting and hedgerow programes in field and road and railway embankments etc.

Khun Sirinya touches on the Benz cars and submarines debate of military excess - similar points being made in UK at the moment with the long overdue closure of UK army bases in Germany with the end of the Cold War some 25 year ago, and scandals of just 6 $20BN(!)Voyager refuelling aircraft that can't refuel UK or NATO aircraft(!).

Or 600 amoured scout cars when UK has only 127 tanks and the largest UK tank battle since WW2 was just 25 tanks in the Iraq War. Such excess tends to be mere incompetence rather than the blatant corruption of Sangcom UK and Saudi arms deals or Ostend and Manston airport gunrunning - even the previous East Kent MP Jonathan Aitken was jailed for such activity and Saudi submarines.

While the $300M repair bill for Buckingham Palace, or the cost of a new Royal Yacht Britannia as well as Trident subs and nuclear missiles are ongoing waste that dwarf the fuss over the 7 Kings monument. But at least Thai tourists should be able to see more of Buckingham Palace and other royal palaces with extended opening hours at Windsor Castle and Balmoral and Sandringham.

Surely UK and Thailand could develop stronger ASEAN relationships on avoiding such bloat and excess while cooperating on say UN Peacekeeping and UN Police missions, Shan heroin and yaba manufacture by the United Wa Army in Myanmar or the Deep South cooperation with Malaysian and Commonwealth. The latter not that dissimilar to Northern Ireland's Troubles now over.

The SRT secondhand rail carriages could at the very least put en train fully coordinated ASEAN rail plans with say a Vinh and Vientiane link or Kanchanaburi and Yangon improvements.

Such plans will be crucial with the expansion of China's Silk Road and Belt port and rail plans - already trains are speeding along from Shanghai to Moscow and Paris and Madrid in just 10 days rather than 28 days by sea.

Thailand 4.0 should be full steam ahead to make sure it's as rapidly connected to that economic and logistics system as soon as possible.


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