All six tunnels are proposed to be in Thalang, with none further south than the busy intersection in front of the Tesco mall south of Thalang Town.
The plans were shown at two public feedback meetings: one at Thalang District Office on Monday (Feb 6), the other at Wichit Municipality offices yesterday (Feb 7).
Nirun Ketkao, Acting Director of Bureau of Regional Transport and Traffic Promotion, confirmed to that the proposed locations of the six tunnels were:
- Tha Chatchai Checkpoint, at the northern tip of the island;
- Thepkrasattri Rd, in front of Hongsyok Bamgrung School, in Baan Suan Maphrao, Thalang;
- Thepkrasattri Rd, just south of the Rawdatul Jannah Mosque (the “Baan Mai Khao Mosque”) – about 1.9km north of the turnoff to Phuket Airport;
- Thepkrasattri Rd, near the Khun Mae Ju store just north of Muang Thalang School;
- Thepkrasattri Rd, in front of Thalang Police Station;
- Thepkrasattri Rd, in front of Tesco mall, Thalang.
Mr Nirun also confirmed that the cost of building all six tunnels had yet to be estimated. “We cannot estimate cost of tunnels at this stage as the budget for these has yet to be calculated,” he said.
However, Chaiwat Thongkamkoon, Director General of Office of Transport and Traffic Policy and Planning, confirmed that B23.4 billion had been already allocated as the budget for the project – but that was for providing the tracks, 23 stops and rail cars operating from Phuket International Airport to Chalong Circle only.
“We have yet to confirm how the light rail is to cross (the water) to Tha Noon in Phang Nga,” Mr Chaiwat told The Phuket News.
So far the plans include options of having the light-rail cross Srisoonthorn Bridge, or having a new small bridge built to run alongside the Sarasin Bridge.
Even the type of rail cars has yet to be decided on. Officials insist the cars will be “trams”, though the images presented at the public meetings showed a variety of types, with many shown requiring overhead power cables.
That imagery contrasted starkly with Phuket Governor Chockchai Dejamornthan calling for electric trams using quick-turnaround rechargeable batteries during his visit to the factory headquarters of rolling-stock giant CRRC Company in Changsha, China, in late December.
The proposed route for the light-rail has now also been altered. Instead of the the light-rail diverting to the west side of the island to trundle past the airport then wind its way back to Thepkrasattri Rd, the new plan is for the main rail line to continue all the way along Thepkrasattri Rd to the northern tip of the island with a spur rail line dedicated to taking passengers to and from the airport, with the light-rail stop to be built on the road in front of the International Terminal with a 150-metre walkway with travelators providing direct, covered access to the terminal.
The new plans also require one lane above ground on either side of the Bang Khu Underpass and the underpass at the turnoff to the airport to be dedicated to the light-rail cars, and they make no account for not interrupting the heavy traffic flow at the busy Heroines Monument, where no tunnel has been allocated. Instead, the rail cars are to pass above ground to either side of the monument actually on the roundabout.
Other key concerns raised by Phuket residents at the meetings this week also need addressing. One question from the floor asked what transport options from the light-rail stops were being considered so that passengers can continue their journeys to destinations away from the stops. The question in one fell swoop highlighted Phuket’s non-existent bus network and how islanders are forced to use private taxi and tuk-tuk cartels across the island.
Despite the many issues that yet to be resolved, Mr Chaiwat said, “We estimate the Phuket light-rail will be operational in 2021.”
Mr Nirun concurred, though he admitted that the project had yet to pass its crucial Environmental Impact Assessment report, for which feedback from the public meetings held are required.
“All feedback gathered at the two meetings this week will be included in the EIA application that will be submitted to the Environment Impact Evaluation Bureau in March,” Mr Nirun said.
“We expect the project to be granted its EIA approval by the end of this year,” he added.
“There are many more steps to go, of course. After the EIA is approved we still need to find investors, select contractors and the construction itself will take about three years,” Mr Nirun said.
Not mentioned was the legal need for express Cabinet approval in order to cut down any mangroves at the top of the island to make way for the light-rail tracks, as required in building the Klong Koh Pee Bridge through mangroves on the outskirts of Phuket Town.
Regardless, Mr Nirun was positive the project will move ahead.
“People right now have different thoughts about the project, and some are intimidated by it, but after they learn what the project actually is and what it will bring they will not feel intimdated by it anymore,” he said.
“We know some people might not be happy about it, but the light-rail will make getting around the island more flexible for residents, especially schoolchildren and students. It is worth taking the opportunity while we have it,” Mr Nirun said.