Thailand’s infrastructure spends are set to rise from $3 billion this year, to an average $9 billion a year until 2020, as the kingdom plans to capitalise on this opportunity. The Thai government has approved the Transport Infrastructure Development Plan,2015-2022 that aims to make the country the logistic hub of ASEAN & GMS.
The plan covers five strategic areas:
- Modernising and expanding the railways
- The Mass Transit project in Bangkok
- Upgrading the airports
- Road expansion projects
- Expansion of seaports
Modernising and expanding the railways
The State Railway of Thailand (SRT) has a 4000 km network of a one-metre, single track rail system, which the government plans to upgrade to a one-metre dual track system for faster shipping of passengers and cargo.
The country also intends to build a rail system of standard gauge that would allow trains to run at speeds of up to 160-180 kph. Thailand has signed bilateral agreements with China and Japan respectively, to build two railway trunk lines; one connecting Bangkok with Kunming, the capital of the Yunnan province in China, and another linking Dawei in Myanmar to Phnom Penh in Cambodia.
The North-South Bangkok-Kunming railway line that passes through Laos is expected to be complete in 2020, and the Dawei-Phnom Penh line is planned to go through Bangkok and criss-cross the country in the East-West direction.
The two systems will connect Bangkok to the other international lines which are currently in their planning stages. Plans for an upper east-west line, connecting Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam, as well as a southern line connecting Malaysia, is also on the Thai government’s radar. They will enhance Thailand’s connectivity with China and ASEAN countries and turn Bangkok into a major transportation hub.
Plans for high-speed rail projects are also in development, the design for the Thai-Japanese high-speed railway project has been completed, while negotiations are on with the Chinese for a medium-speed-railway project. The Ministry of Transport is seeking cabinet approval for high-speed trains from Bangkok-Rayong and Bangkok-Hua Hin.
The Mass Transit project in Bangkok
The Thai government is aiming to kickstart ten delayed mass-transit projects in Bangkok. The country’s environmental law has been amended to allow the procurement process to start before the completion of the projects’ environmental impact assessment. The projects have a combined investment value of Bt1.8 trillion.
Upgrading the airports
Thailand is a hub of the aviation industry. Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport today handles 50 million passengers annually, against its capacity of 45 million. The airport is expanding, with increased infrastructure handling the increasing traffic with new terminals and a third runway part of the expansion plan. The Don Mueang airport, the second international airport in Bangkok, serves almost 40 million passengers.
U-Tapao International Airport in Rayong, located about 150 km from Bangkok and 30 km from Pattaya, is being developed as an alternative to the Suvarnabhumi Airport. The Royal Thai Navy’s military airbase airport will be expanded and opened for commercial operations, which will allow it to cater to more than 62,000 flights a year and handle more than three million passengers annually.
Thailand is a full-service aerospace hub and a major player in the region’s multi-billion dollar aircraft maintenance and manufacturing industries, as well as a major centre of the electronics and electrical appliances industry. The country plans to develop the U-Tapao Airport into an MRO hub that provides maintenance and repair services in the Asia-Pacific region. “The expansion of the U-Tapao International Airport for commercial traffic and maintenance and repair operations will further enhance our already strong offering in the aerospace sector,” said Korbsiri Iamsuri, Director of Thailand Board of Investment in North America.
Many multinational companies such as GE, Chromalloy and Triumph have already invested in Thailand, attracted by the presence of a well-developed and cost-effective ancillary electronics and automotive industries.
Expansion of seaports
The biggest port in the country, Laem Chabang, is in its third phase of development and expected to be complete in 2019. This development would increase its capacity from the current 10 million TEUs to 18 million TEUs and aims to transform Laem Chabang into the main gateway port of the Greater Mekong Subregion, enabling it to compete with Singapore. The country further plans to construct twin railway tracks from the North-East to boost connectivity to the Port and to widen the roads and gates leading to the Port to ease traffic.
Road expansion projects
Thailand has a well-developed road infrastructure, with road transport accounting for around 80% of its total freight volume. The country wants to connect key economic regions with four-lane road networks and link to other areas in the Greater Mekong Subregion, namely southern China, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.
The economic and social impact of infrastructure development plans
The Thai government has employed an infrastructure-led growth policy due to the sluggish global economy. The investment in these infrastructure projects is expected to have a huge economic and social impact, boosting Thailand’s competitiveness and integrate it economically with its neighbours. Regional cooperation with China and Japan will also be enhanced.
The development of the transport infrastructure will help Thailand lower logistics costs from 14% to 12% of the GDP, which translates to saving Bt260 billion every year in logistics costs. This windfall is expected to boost the manufacturing sector, which is a key driver of Thailand’s growth that accounts for 84% of its GDP.
Better transport infrastructure will have other benefits too, such as an increased demand for energy, technology and logistics, boosting the respective sectors. It will likewise create new jobs and provide a fillip to the flourishing tourism industry, expected to attract massive private investment and spur economic growth. Property prices, especially in the vicinity of the mass-transit system, will also get a push as new projects come up among them.
However, many challenges remain. Thailand is ranked 71st out of 140 countries in the World Economic Forum’s competitiveness report for 2015-2016 in terms of quality of infrastructure. The significant investments it is making in its infrastructure should help it improve on it and attain its goal of becoming the transport & aviation hub of ASEAN.