The massive scheme forms a major part of the controversial government plan to borrow B2.2 trillion for infrastructure improvements, due to be argued over in Parliament this week.
The plan will also include high-speed train routes, electrification of the rail system and the construction of the Dawei seaport in Myanmar as Thailand’s main shipping connection point to other regions to the west of the peninsula.
SRT Governor Prapas Chongsa-nguan explained that the plan envisages double track linking Chiang Khong district of northernmost Chiang Rai province to Thailand’s southernmost town of Padang Besar, and the northeastern province of Nong Khai, bordering Laos.
By extension, this would connect Thailand efficiently with southern China and the wider Southeast Asian region, Mr Prapas said.
Of the 4,000 kilometres of rail lines in Thailand, only 300 kilometres is currently dual track, and the SRT will have to build an additional 2,857km of dual track to cover the 53 provinces in the plan, he said.
However, once completed, the double-tracking could transform the way goods and people are moved around the country, Mr Prapas said, with SRT being capable of transporting 50 million tonnes of goods and 75 million passengers a year.
Mr Prapas explained that the present single track system compels cargo trains to be switched into sidings where they wait to allow trains coming the other way to go through.
This effectively reduces trains to running at an average speed of 30 kmh.
The dual-track system would triple their speed to 90 kmh. This greatly enhanced sped, coupled with the lower cost of rail transport compared with road transport, would potentially convince manufacturers to switch from road to rail for transporting their products. It would also allow passenger trains to compete for speed with buses.
Thailand’s present logistics cost is 15.2 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), which the government wants to reduce by at least two percentage points in the coming seven years – the time it would take to complete the dual-track system.