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21/09/2013
Dems say trains to run at loss for 223 years



Dems say trains to run at loss for 223 years


The Democrat Party yesterday blasted the government's high-speed railway project, saying it could take hundreds of years to recoup the outlay.

The high-speed train project is part of the government's 2.2-trillion-baht infrastructure development scheme.

The House of Representatives yesterday deliberated for a second day the 2.2 trillion-baht borrowing bill, which will authorise the Finance Ministry to seek loans for the infrastructure projects.

At the House meeting, Deputy Democrat leader Korn Chatikavanij voiced concerns over the worthiness of the high-speed train project.

He cited a study by a world-leading investment banking company, which has studied the project.

Mr Korn said the study showed that even if half of the current 12,000 daily domestic airline passengers used the high-speed trains instead at a rate of 1,600 baht per person per trip, the investment would yield a return of almost 10 million baht per day, or more than 3.5 billion baht annually.

The rate of 1,600 baht per person per trip has been calculated by the Office of Transport and Traffic Policy and Planning under the Transport Ministry.

However, given the high-speed train project's investment cost of 780 billion baht, it would take almost 223 years for the amount to be recouped, Mr Korn said.

This excludes maintenance and management costs, as well as annual interest on the loans, he said.

He also questioned how many people would actually use the service.

Citing survey data from the International Monetary Fund, he said the survey showed that among 27 countries which plan to build high-speed railways, Thailand has the lowest per-capita income.

While China's per-capita income is on a similar level to Thailand, it has a huge population, which means there will be more potential users of a high-speed train service, Mr Korn said.

''Bangkok has a population of about 8 million, but other cities in Thailand which would be linked by the high-speed train routes have much smaller populations,'' Mr Korn said.

''It is still not known how many people will use the trains.''

Rebutting Mr Korn's comments, Transport Minister Chadchart Sittipunt argued that the government considers other economic benefits generated by the high-speed project, rather than thinking only of investment returns.

Mr Chadchart said the worthiness of each high-speed route project is calculated based on expert advice, and insisted the figures are not distorted.

Prime Minister's Office Minister Varathep Rattanakorn insists the 2.2-trillion-baht borrowing bill is in line with the constitution.

The Democrats say the bill breaches the constitution, which states the need for the government to be financially disciplined.

The opposition says the borrowing is unnecessary and that with proper planning, long-term infrastructure projects could be financed from the government's regular budget.

Mr Varathep, who is deputy chairman of the House committee scrutinising the borrowing bill, told the House meeting that the Council of State, which is the government's legal adviser, has confirmed the bill does not contravene the charter.

He said the government, as an executive branch, has the authority to seek loans.


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Writer: Mongkol Bangprapa and Penchan Charoensuthipan

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