High-speed train project clears EIA

The National Environment Board (NEB) has approved the first phase of the high-speed train project from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.

The board has, however, warned over the possible environmental effects on Bueng Boraphet, a large freshwater swamp and lake in central Thailand, that the train is set to transverse. The board on Thursday approved the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study for the high-speed train project.

But the board recommended monitoring and implementation measures to limit the impact on Bueng Boraphet in Nakhon Sawan province.

Wijarn Simachaya, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, said the National Environment Board chaired by deputy prime minister Prawit Wongsuwan approved the project's EIA for the first phase of the Bangkok-Chiang Mai high-speed route -- from Bangkok to Phitsanulok -- which would be run by the Ministry of Transport's Transport and Traffic Policy Plan Office.

He said the National Environment Board also agreed with recommendations made by an expert committee that state agencies should further monitor the environmental impacts on Bueng Boraphet.

The expert committee recommended the Wildlife Research Centre of Bueng Boraphet regularly survey the egg-laying habitats of birds and ecological surveillance stations monitor the quality of water during the construction period and beyond.

Meanwhile, Pisanu Rienmahasarn, a consultant to the minister of commerce, said he supported the Thai-Chinese high-speed railway project, citing economic and diplomatic benefits.

The controversy surrounding the Sino-Thai high-speed train project stems from the social stigma that Chinese hold among Thais, Mr Pisanu said during a seminar held by the Thai-Chinese Journalists Association at Dhurakij Pundit University. "I would urge Thais not to be too quick to judge and not to focus on the negatives," he said.

"It is true that the railway will increase Chinese influence in Asean, but we currently do not possess the technology to make our own high-speed railways."

Mr Pisanu said Thailand has enjoyed a long-standing brotherly relationship with China, and this planned high-speed railway, stretching from Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima, will strengthen diplomatic ties between the two countries.

Controversy rose following the National Council for Peace and Order's decision to invoke Section 44 to hasten the process for building the project on June 15. The order instructed the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) to hire a Chinese state enterprise to supervise the construction of the Thai-Chinese railway. The company must be certified by China's National Development and Reform Commission.

The firm will oversee the design of the railway infrastructure as well as rail and electrical systems. It will serve as an adviser for the project's construction.

Despite the controversy, the panelists at Thursday's seminar said they supported the government's choice to choose China to carry out the project over other countries known for their railway systems, such as Japan and Germany.

"We don't always have to opt for the best choice," said Kiatanantha Lounkaew, assistant to the vice-president of Research, Dhurakij Pundit University.

"We should rather opt for the choice that best fits the country. China's technology fits well with Thailand's infrastructure." the cost for the first phase of the project is estimated at 179 billion baht.

Source URL: Bangkok Post