ACADEMICS yesterday urged Prime Minster General Prayut Chan-o-cha to put on the national agenda the need to fix structural problems relating to the railways before rushing to build a number of new railroads.
They expressed concern that the current plans for railroad development, if they went ahead without proper deliberation of the Kingdom's overall infrastructure-development strategy, would adversely affect Thai interests, especially farmers and small and medium-sized enterprises.
Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Engineering yesterday held a press conference, at which it said it would soon submit to the government advice on strategic development of the country's infrastructure, and the railway system in particular.
The PM along with ministers is currently on a three-day visit to Japan.
Among other matters, the government delegation is scheduled to sign agreements with the Japanese government for collaboration in a study of the construction of two railroads from the East to the West, linking Myanmar to Laos via Thailand.
This follows the Prayut administration's decision to give the Chinese government the right to construct two rail lines worth Bt400 billion - one from Nong Khai to Map Ta Phut via Kaeng Khoi in Saraburi, and the other from Bangkok to Kaeng Khoi.
The two governments are set to hold their final meeting on the matter later this week.
The collaboration with both China and Japan is aimed at building dual-track railroads with 1.435-metre gauge, running mid-speed trains at a maximum of 180 kilometres per hour.
At yesterday's press conference, the CU academics called on the government to revamp the Kingdom's railway management system and the structure of regulatory bodies, as well as increasing route operators' efficiency.
In addition, the railway system should be developed in accordance with city planning, the rail-industry sector and trade as an integrated plan, they said.
"Otherwise, we will not reap the benefits we deserve, since the railways are still used as a tool for economic expansion by great-power countries," said Assistant Prof Pramual Suteecharuwat of the university' Faculty of Engineering.
"We do not oppose the government's policy to build more railroads, including those running high-speed trains.
But, we want the government to have a definitive strategy, with actual plans to brace for how the country will be impacted by them," he explained.
Pramual said the faculty would submit three main issues for the government's consideration, covering: a definitive overall strategy; the technology that will be used; and development plans for human resources and businesses related to the railway system.
He said that if the railroads were to be linked to other countries, as planned, Thai farmers could be hard hit by pass-through transport as there would be an influx of imported crops at cheaper prices.
The government would, therefore, have to tell farmers how to tackle such a threat, he added.
Moreover, when the railroads are being built, there will be a requirement for many new businesses related to railway construction, such as parts and carriage assembly, but the government has never had a clear direction on this matter, said the academic.
For example, he said Bangkok's three metro electricity-driven mass-transit lines used different technologies, which resulted in higher maintenance costs as they were unable to share resources, such as depots.
Pramual said that if the government had a clear policy to develop the railway network, this would lead to an effort to create uniform carriage sizes, making carriage assembly attractive enough to investors.
This would in turn enable Thai operators to absorb the technology and, if they could assemble the carriages, it would help the country reduce its capital outflow, he added.