A high-speed train project linking southern China, Laos and Thailand could start in 2015 in time for the launch of the Asean Economic Community.
Chamaiporn Chuecharoen, the commercial counsellor for Thailand in Kunming, China, said the project envisions a train capable of speeds of 200 kilometres per hour running from Yunnan province to Laos and Nong Khai in northeastern Thailand.
Passengers and cargo from Nong Khai could then travel to Bangkok and Rayong as well as south to Malaysia and Singapore.
Other high-speed rail links are planned from China to Myanmar and Cambodia.
Work on the US$7-billion China-Laos route is expected to begin shortly.
The project will be financed by the Export-Import Bank of China under a 30-year loan, with China responsible for construction.
The plan estimates revenue in the first year of operations starting at $95 million, eventually reaching as much as $16.3 billion a year in 50 years.
Plans to build a train link from Kunming to Singapore were initiated by Chinese and Asean leaders at the seventh Asean summit in 2001. Construction on the project, ultimately covering 3,900 km, began last year with the China-Vientiane link, with the entire line expected to be fully complete in 2020.
Work on the Kunming-Yangon line and a larger project connecting Kunming with Vientiane, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore is expected to start later this year.
Chinese authorities also are considering a separate high-speed route that would join Kunming and Bangkok with Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh.
Ms Chamaiporn said the link between China, Vietnam, Thailand and Myanmar would have tremendous economic benefits for Southeast Asia and the Greater Mekong region.
Planning for high-speed rail lines in Thailand is already under way, with funding to come from a proposed 2-trillion-baht investment programme dedicated to new infrastructure projects over the next seven years.
Finance Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong said the government is planning four high-speed rail lines to support trade and tourism within the country.
The investment programme, now being drafted for parliamentary review, would focus on transport infrastructure including new railways, roads, airports and port improvements, he said.
The four high-speed rail lines are Bangkok-Nong Khai-Vientiane; Bangkok-Ayutthaya-Chiang Mai; Bangkok to Hua Hin; and an expansion of the Airport Rail Link in Bangkok to Chon Buri, Pattaya and Rayong.
Mr Kittiratt said the Bangkok-Chiang Mai link should begin with the Bangkok-Ayutthaya leg due to Ayutthaya's importance as a tourism destination and a government proposal to push the former capital as a host of the World Expo.
The line from Bangkok to the Eastern Seaboard would include a standard-gauge rail link from Suvarnabhumi airport to Don Mueang airport, he said.
Existing rail networks in the South will be expanded to link Hat Yai and Yala with Malaysia.
Mr Kittiratt said the infrastructure bill would see investment averaging 300 billion baht a year over the next seven years, while each project must be justifiable in terms of its economic benefits to the country.
"Even after parliament approves the 2-trillion-baht bill, it doesn't mean there will be a blank cheque. Each project must pass scrutiny by the National Economic and Social Development Board," he said.
Phusadee Arunmas & Wichit Chantanusornsiri
Business & Investment Opportunities
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