BANGKOK: With the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur high-speed railway (HSR) agreement signed, Thailand and Malaysia are set for talks on the construction of a Kuala Lumpur-Bangkok HSR.
Thailand’s Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisiht told the Nikkei Asian Review (NAR) he hoped to meet his Malaysian counterpart Liow Tiong Lai soon to discuss the 1,500km HSR.
In connecting the two country’s capitals, this HSR will enhance regional connectivity.
Singapore and Malaysia inked an agreement on Dec 13 last year to build a 350km long HSR line between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. It will have eight stations and go across the Straits of Johor via a 25m-high bridge near the Second Link. It is expected to be operational by Dec 31, 2026.
The proposed Kuala Lumpur-Bangkok route will extend the line all the way through the Malay Peninsula.
Arkhom told NAR: “We will discuss how we can get foreign countries involved in the project like ‘China or Japan’ or ‘China and Japan’. But Malaysia seems to have more favour in China.”
The Bangkok-Kuala Lumpur route is part of the pan-Asia railway network plan proposed by former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad at a 1995 meeting of leaders of Asean.
The plan was to build a rail network that runs all the way from Singapore, to the southern Chinese city of Kunming, through Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos.
“Asean cities should be connected by high speed rail,” Arkhom was quoted as saying. He noted that unlike air routes, a railway connection “can promote cities along the railway line”.
The pan-Asia railway link plan goes well with Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road initiative, which aims to create an economic corridor from Asia to Europe by developing overland and maritime routes.
NAR reported that Chinese involvement in regional transport networks was on the increase.
A railway link between Kunming and the Laotian capital Vientiane is under construction. This will connect with another line that China is involved in, linking Nong Khai on the Thai side of the Laotian border with Bangkok, according to the NAR report. China is also involved in a HSR project in Indonesia.
The report said China would jump at the opportunity to build the Kuala Lumpur-Bangkok HSR. So will Japan with its bullet train technology.
China and Japan are already bidding to build the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur HSR.
The Kuala Lumpur-Bangkok route is currently served by low-speed trains that run on 1-metre gauge tracks. High-speed trains would require a new set of 1.4m standard-gauge tracks to be built, Arkhom told NAR.
“But if we cannot put in much investment, we will just go on our existing 1-metre gauge,” he added.
As a primary action plan, Arkhom said Thailand planned to electrify the diesel trains that run between the southern Thai city of Hat Yai and Kuala Lumpur this year.
According to the NAR report, Thailand currently has two other high speed railway projects in the pipeline, for which funding has been a constant headache.
One is from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and another is from Bangkok to the Laotian border. Japan is involved in the former project while China is investing in the latter project.