The railway was immortalised in the Oscar-winning film The Bridge on the River Kwai, made in 1957, which showed the dreadful working conditions endured by tens of the thousands of POWs who built the track during World War II.
A feasibility study on the 105-kilometre (65-mile) stretch running north from the Three Pagodas Pass, a gap in the mountains between Thailand and Myanmar, is scheduled to begin in October, Railway Minister Aung Min said.
“We will reopen this [rail]road. The other countries said they would also help us and we will continue working for it,” Aung Min said after peace talks with ethnic Shan rebels.
“We will do a survey and try to start working after the rainy season with the help of the international community.”
Long isolated under decades of army-rule, Myanmar has embarked on a rapid series of political and economic reforms under President Thein Sein, including moves to improve relations with its neighbours.
The railway would provide a much-needed economic shot in the arm for the impoverished area, which is home to Myanmar’s rebellious Karen ethnic group, by boosting trade with Thailand and attracting tourists.
Karen rebels signed a ceasefire with the government in January, a major breakthrough towards ending the long-running insurgency.
Built by the Japanese between 1942 and 1943 to shuttle supplies from Thailand into Myanmar, then called Burma, along a route that engineers had long considered impossible, the rail link was destroyed by Allied bombers in 1945.
Some 13,000 POWs succumbed to abuse, malnutrition and disease during the 14 months it took to carve the 424-kilometre (263-mile) railway through dense jungles and mountains in Thailand and Burma, under orders from their Japanese captors.
It is also estimated that 80,000 to 100,000 Asian civilians, used as forced labour, perished in the railway’s construction but most of their remains have no known markers or graves.
Meanwhile, Thailand’s Regional Joint Public/Private Sector Consultative Committee has reported to the Cabinet that it supports the planned B190 billion deep-sea port and industrial estate project in Tavoy, or Dawei, in Myanmar.
At the fourth mobile cabinet meeting in Kanchanaburi province, chaired by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the joint committee reported its agreement to support Italian-Thai Development PCL which holds the concession to develop the 170,000-rai Dawei deep sea port and industrial estate project worth B190 billion, and expected to be completed in 2015.
The joint committee has also given the green light to the planned construction of the 90-km Bangyai-Kanchanaburi motorway worth B45 billion, as well as its 70-km extension route from Kanchanaburi to the border of Myanmar.
In addition, the Three Pagodas Pass, Baan Phu Nam Ron Pass and Singkhon Pass have been approved to be established as permanent checkpoints with the aim of accelerating goods transport across the Thai-Myanmar border and to boost tourism.