Thailand’s high-speed train tickets ‘too expensive’

The Thai government’s ambitious plan to construct a high-speed train network in the country will be a big failure, critics claim, as ticket prices would be far too high for the average population and the trains would be only used by tourists and the wealthy, far too few people to reach a turnaround for the $30 billion project.

The Thai government wants to link Bangkok with major cities and tourists spots in the country, which are Chiang Mai, Hat Yai in the south via Hua Hin with a planned connection to Malaysia, Nong Kai at the Lao border via Nakhon Ratchasima, and to Trat in the southeast via Pattaya and Rayong.

As per the calculations of the plan submitted by the administration of Prime MinisterYingluck Shinawatra, commuters would end up having to pay up to 3.50 baht per kilometer for the high-speed train. Thus, a round-trip ticket from Bangkok to Chiang Mai would cost 4,900 baht (around $120), or 19,600 baht ($475) for a family of four, by far more than the average monthly income of an industry or service worker.

In comparison, the cheapest fares for a round trip from Bangkok to Chiang Mai in July 2013 on AirAsia were around 3,100 baht ($76), on Nok Air 4,100 baht ($100) and on Bangkok Airways 3,900 baht ($95). The flight takes around one hour, while the train to Chiang Mai would take about 3 hours.

Bus fares are even lower, with tickets costing between 400 and 800 baht ($9.75 and $19,50) for the 9-hour trip depending on the bus company.

Prices for the other destinations have a similar ratio.

“Any route that costs commuters such a high price will not have customers, because they will choose a cheaper mode of transport. Hence these high-speed trains will only benefit rich folk and businesspeople,” said Kanok Wongtrangan, an opposition politician of the Thai Democrat Party.

“Thai people will never be willing or able to pay for the tickets,” a blogger called Dieter said in a popular Thai blog.

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“[The discount airlines and buses] are available right here, right now, with no tracks to be built, no trains to be bought, no corruption money to be wasted and no animal migration be adversely affected,” another blogger called Spiceman added.

They compared the Thai high-speed projects to the existing tracks in China where ticket prices in June 2013 had to be lowered as much as 30 per cent to attract people to use the trains.

However, Thailand expects to break ground for the first high-speed railway track to Nakhon Ratchasima at the end of 2014. Land expropriation will begin earlier next year followed immediately by construction, which will take five years to complete.