Ministry mulls Orange Line cost transfer

An underground tunnel is being built by the Metropolitan Electricity Authority along a section of Sukhumvit Road near Phra Khanong canal to hide ugly power cables lining the street. The work, expected to be finished in June next year, is part of the state’s plan to smarten up Bangkok. (Photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)

The Transport Ministry is examining a way to reduce its financial burden in the western Orange Line railway project by allowing 100% private investment in the electric rail route that links the Thailand Cultural Centre and Taling Chan.

The project operator, Mass Rapid Transit Authority of Thailand, has been instructed to look into whether the proposal is practical. Although it could potentially help the government save money, the total construction cost, estimated at more than 109 billion baht, may be too high for private investors, minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith said.

The 13.4km rail track is part of the MRTA’s ambitious scheme to connect Bangkok’s western suburbs in Taling Chan with the capital’s easternmost district of Min Buri. Using the Thailand Cultural Centre as the so-called mid-point, the route that goes westward is called the western Orange Line while that in the opposite direction over a distance of 22.57km is the eastern Orange Line.

Originally, the government had planned for the western Orange Line to follow the investment model applied to the eastern line, in which the MRTA is responsible for financing the civil engineering work. But with a lot of infrastructure projects in the pipeline, a move to cut spending is worth looking into, Mr Arkhom said.

The MRTA has already hired a consultancy firm to conduct a study on the issues of the project’s investment and rail services under the Public-Private Partnership scheme. The agency will ask the company to make additional inquiries into the 100% investment proposal.

“We want a study to see how contractors can deal with risks that can occur from the high costs,” Mr Arkhom said.

Under the original plan, companies awarded contracts for the western and eastern Orange Line projects were required to invest only in rail operations. Now, those interested in the western route may have to consider greater risks as a result of higher investment costs in the construction of the track, some of which will be built underground.

The 100% private investment proposal may not translate into action as easily as one adopted by the investor of two other electric rail projects — the 34.5-km Pink Line, stretching from Nonthaburi’s Khae Rai to Bangkok’s Min Buri district, and the 30.4-km Yellow Line, connecting Bangkok’s Lat Phrao and Samut Prakan’s Samrong.

These two routes are elevated and designed for a less expensive monorail system with light passenger capacity, compared to the heavy rail transit in other projects, Mr Arkhom said.

According to the minister, the Pink Line requires a 53-billion-baht investment while the Yellow Line project is valued at nearly 52 billion baht. The government will help the investor, BSR Joint Venture, deal with expropriation costs.

Though the idea to reduce the state financial burden it attractive, all Mr Arkhom can say at now is “we have to wait for the study’s findings”. He expects a decision on the proposal in one or two months.

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