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An ambitious double-track northern rail route project from Den Chai in Phrae to Chiang Khong in Chiang Rai is set for completion in 2023, two years ahead of schedule.
The route is expected to set a model for safe travel, boost the local economy and serve as a new link to Laos, observers say. Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith on Thursday confirmed the early completion date for the 323-kilometre track.
Its operator, the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) had earlier refrained from giving an exact date after the cabinet, late last month, gave the green light for the 85-billion-baht project, which will connect the four northern provinces of Phrae, Lampang, Phayao and Chiang Rai.
A SRT source said earlier that a date for bidding on the project could not be given as his agency was required to wait for land expropriation to start first.
Mr Arkhom did not elaborate on the bidding issue but said "the SRT will speed up the project to complete it in 2023".
He was speaking at a seminar on the new rail line in Chiang Rai, attended by 200 officials, scholars and businesspeople.
After 2023, it is hoped Thailand will have a new rail line that will provide faster and safer travel, help improve freight transport and boost international trade.
One outstanding feature of this rail route is will have "no level crossings along the track that should increase safety," according to the SRT.
Fences will be built along the route which will start in Den Chai, a district in Phrae where it meets another key northern railroad linking Bangkok and Chiang Mai.
The Den Chai-Chiang Khong route then runs northward, through Lampang and Phayao before entering Chiang Rai and ending in Chiang Khong, a remote district in Chiang Rai bordering Laos.
Along the track, bridges for the trains as well as flyovers and underpasses for cars will be built to avoid level crossings.
"Motorcycle flyovers and underpasses" as well as pedestrian bridges in 254 locations will also be included, the SRT said.
There will be a total of 26 stations.
"This is a historic event Chiang Rai people have been looking forward to for 50 years," deputy Chiang Rai governor Sombun Siriwet said.
That was when the project was first proposed.
However, it has faced many delays, including the need to conduct a new study in 2004 on how it will connect with China's initiative to expand rail networks southward.
Once completed, the new route will link up to a railroad in Laos which will run to Kunming, a transportation hub in China's southern Yunnan province.
The SRT expects the Den Chai-Chiang Khong route will serve between 5,600 and 9,800 passengers a day.
Economically, the train will handle cargo of 413,417 Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEU) which will increase to 951,955 TEU in 2052, according to the SRT.
With these promising figures, the government believes it can increase international trade value by between 30% and 40% a year.
Chiang Rai could even become a new "logistics city" in the region, the SRT said.
This article first appeared on www.bangkokpost.com
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