Heading the delegation was the Chairman of JS Rock Capital Ltd, Charles JS Wang, who said he was also interested in the Patong tunnel, as he could see “high potential” in that project, too.
“Phuket has good potential as it is a major tourist area,” said Mr Wang. “It’s an opportunity for our group.”
Mr Wang’s visit potentially adds an essential element to the light rail project – funding. A company with which he already cooperates, Bangkok-based Gold Phoenix Construction Consultant (Thailand) Co, visited the governor in June last year, along with an affiliate, Hong Kong-Korean venture company Zhi Shan Yan Construction, to express interest in building the system.
At that time, Gold Phoenix – which had been established just two months before – proposed a monorail for Phuket, arguing that it would be more appropriate for the island in terms of how it would look and also because it would require less land.
Gold Phoenix’s aim, according to its website, is “to promote the development of transportation systems”.
Mr Wang and his team, which includes representatives of a Japanese engineering company, visited proposed locations of the two projects yesterday.
After meeting with the Gov Tri today, Mr Wang said his team would conduct a study in cooperation with the Japanese engineers. His team would meet in the next couple of weeks in Japan, and he would then return to Phuket with the clearer idea of how the rail and tunnel projects could be managed.
He added that the monorail concept was not fixed in stone; the study would determine the best option.
The cost of building the light rail system is estimated at around B15 billion, which would include three routes: Phuket International Airport to Phuket City, Phuket City to Patong and Phuket City to Chalong Circle, with a total of 19 stations along the three routes.
A monorail would cost more. At last year’s meeting the managing director of Gold Phoenix, Tophon Kraianupongsa, put the figure at around B20 billion.
He added, “We think Phuket Province will be able to pay us back under a 30- to 50-year plan.”
The cost of the Patong tunnel project has been estimated at around B6 billion.
Mr Wang said a final decision on whether JS Rock would invest would be taken once a full study has been completed. The decision would also depend to some extent on how the relationship with the Thai government is structured. This is not yet clear.
Gov Tri explained that if Mr Wang and the Phuket authorities can come to an agreement at their next meeting, he would discuss it with relevant national authorities, and would accompany Mr Wang and his team to make a presentation to the Ministry of Transport.
Both the light rail system and the Patong tunnel were approved in principle by the government during the mobile Cabinet session in Phuket on March 19 and 20.
However, neither project will be realised until the money can be found. This will most likely mean that the Phuket Provincial government will have to rely on the private sector for funding.