Thai PM bites bullet on growth, eyes fast trains to tourist hotspots

BANGKOK (REUTERS) - Thailand plans to build high-speed railway links connecting Bangkok to tourist destinations south of the Thai capital modelled on Japan's bullet trains, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said on Thursday.

Prayuth heads a military government that is looking for big ticket schemes to stimulate growth in Thailand, Southeast Asia's second-largest economy, which is still struggling to regain traction following the putsch last May.

During an official visit to Japan this week where he met Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe, Prayuth rode the Shinkansen, or bullet train, from Tokyo to Osaka, prompting him to consider a similar network for Thailand. "I would like to see it happen for tourist destinations like Pattaya and Hua Hin using funding from the state and the private sector," said Prayuth, referring to beach destinations south of Bangkok. "I am inviting interested parties to fund and support this idea which should happen in the very near future," he added, giving no further details.

The Thai government last month said it would begin building a 400-billion-baht (S$15.29 billion) rail project jointly with China in September, something that could be a boon for Thai trade and tourism.

China is seeking to gain a strategic foothold in Thailand, as Bangkok-Washington ties have soured since last year's coup.

Thailand and Japan signed a memorandum of intent on Monday to develop Thailand's existing standard-gauge railway lines and improve urban rail links in Bangkok with Japanese expertise.

Thailand's economy experienced zero growth in the first half of 2014 and will report its full-year 2014 growth on Feb. 16, which the Bank of Thailand forecasts at 0.8 percent.