Thais to fund first phase of Thailand-China railway project

BANGKOK - Thailand on Thursday said it would fund the construction of the first phase of railway line from the Thai-Laos border to the Gulf of Thailand that China and Thailand had agreed to partner.

The project is part of China's efforts to expand infrastructure in Southeast Asia. China has ambitious infrastructure plans for the region to build rail links from Kunming in its southwest through Laos to Thailand.

Thai Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith said earlier this month that China and Thailand were still negotiating a 60:40 shareholding plan for the proposed 845 kms (525 miles) line which would run from the Thai-Laos border to the Gulf of Thailand. China has put the project cost at 560 billion baht ($15.87 billion).

Deputy government spokesman Major General Weerachon Sukhontapatipak said on Thursday that Thailand would fund the project's first phase, or part of the track from Nakhon Ratchasima province, northeast of Bangkok, to the Thai capital. "Early stage construction will be the line Bangkok - Kaeng Khoi - Nakon Ratchasima. Thailand will invest in all of it by itself," Weerachon told reporters. "Both governments have agreed this project will take place under this administration." China's rail ambitions have taken hold elsewhere.

Neighbouring Laos in December marked a groundbreaking ceremony in Vientiane for a line from Kunming to Vientiane.

In October China piped rival Japan to sign a high-speed rail deal with Indonesia worth $5.1 billion.

But the project, a 150 kms (93 miles) line which would connect the Indonesian capital Jakarta with the mountain-fringed city of Bandung, has run into problems with the suspension of construction just days after a groundbreaking ceremony.