by Yang Zhou
BANGKOK, Dec. 23 (Xinhua) -- A Thai minister said the China-Thailand railway, the kingdom's first high-speed railway, would greatly contribute to the development of Thailand's landlocked northeast and the first phase of the project is expected to be operational in late 2022 or early 2023.
The project, under the Belt and Road Initiative, ushers in a new era of high-speed railway in Thailand, Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith told Xinhua, adding that the railway, passing mostly landlocked northeastern Thailand, the kingdom's poorest region, will contribute to the industrial and tourism development there.
Thailand and China jointly inaugurated the construction of the first phase of China-Thailand high-speed railway, which links Bangkok and northeastern province of Nakhon Ratchasima at the province's Pak Chong district, on Thursday.
Of the first phase, the first 3.5-km section is located between two railway stations - Klang Dong and Pang Asok - in Nakhon Ratchasima. The second section of 11 km, the third of 119.5 km and the fourth of 119 km are to open for bidding later.
The 253-km first phase, together with the planned 355-km second phase from Nakhon Ratchasima to Nong Khai Pronvince on the Thai-Lao border, would connect with the China-Laos railway to form an artery railway linking Thailand, Laos and China in the future.
The minister said there would be six stations along the Bangkok-Nakhon Ratchasima high-speed railway, or the the first phase, among them Pak Chong station would be very likely one station for the railroad.
"If we complete the Pak Chong station, foreign tourists can travel from Bangkok to Pak Chong in an hour to enjoy Khao Yai National Park," Arkhom said.
"We expect tourism would bloom when the high-speed railway is completed," he emphasized that tourism may be the most efficient way to improve local people's lives.
The minister also said the high-speed train will bring investments to the region which has one-third of the country's population and lands, but only accounts for one-tenth of Thailand's total GDP.
Arkhom believed that the high-speed railway is a great opportunity for northeastern Thailand as he expected it would contribute to poverty reduction in the region, exactly like what high-speed railways did in China.
He also mentioned that his ministry would complete the bidding process for the first phase in 2018, which is expected to be operational in late 2022 or early 2023.
As for the second phase, he said that his ministry is going to submit it for cabinet approval next year and will try to complete the railway in 2023 as well to connect it with the China-Laos railway in time.