Slight delay in Thai high speed rail project due to environmental impact study

BANGKOK - Construction work has been delayed until the middle of next month for the initial 3.5-km stretch of the Thai-China high speed railway (HSR) in Thailand's north-eastern province of Nakhon Ratchasima, Bangkok Post daily reported on Thursday.

Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith was quoted as saying the HSR line has to wait for approval of an environmental impact assessment (EIA) report from the Environmental Impact Evaluation Bureau.

Mr Arkhom said on Wednesday that the Ministry of Transport and other affiliated parties have been discussing methods to speed up the approval process following a number of delays.

The first phase of the HSR, a 250-km rail line that will link the Thai capital Bangkok and Nakhon Ratchasima is expected to be operational in 2021, Reuters reported in September.

The full line will span 873 km, linking Thailand and Laos across the Mekong river at the northeastern Thai city of Nong Khai. The project is part of China's Belt and Road initiative.

Thailand in September signed two contracts, worth 5.2 billion baht (S$213 million), with Chinese state enterprises to begin the HSR's construction.

The first contract covers the detailed engineering design of the project while the second involves the hiring of Chinese technical advisers.

Mr Arkhom, as quoted by Bangkok Post, said construction of the next phases of the HSR project would begin in the first quarter of 2018.

"While we have agreed that the Chinese representatives ... must send their designs to us within six months, we have requested them to do so as soon as the design work on each sub-phase is completed," he said.

Landlocked Laos is set to launch its own HSR project with China in four to five years - a 414-km line that will also pass through Luang Prabang, a World Heritage Town in Laos.