At long last, the Thai government has approved plans for a long-awaited high-speed railway to China, meaning that it might actually fulfill its promise of beginning construction on the much-anticipated line before the end of this year.
On Tuesday, Thailand greenlit the first stage of the ambitious Southeast Asia sprawling railway project. This phase will see the construction of a 256km high-speed rail line between Bangkok and Nakhon Ratchasima. The project is estimated to take four years and cost $5.2 billion. Thailand will be providing the money, while China provides the expertise.
However, even after its finished, the line will still be around 600km away from the Laos border. The second phase of the project, a rail line from Nakhon Ratchasima to Nong Khai on the border has not yet been approved.
Once both phases are complete, the railway will link up with a China-Laos rail line that is currently under construction, allowing travelers to make the trip between Bangkok and the Lao capital of Vientiane in just four hours, and travel all the way up to Kunming. Further down the line, the hope is that the railway will be extended southwards to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore as part of China's "One Belt, One Road" initiative aimed at improving trade and transport infrastructure in the region.
First announced by the two countries' leaders back in 2014, the railway has faced a number of setbacks and delays over the years. Despite multiple announcements that work would begin soon, no track has yet been laid down. However, in May, Thailand's Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Transport assured Chinese state media that the oft-delayed project would finally be getting underway in 2017 -- "for sure."
If all goes according to plan, the high-speed railway will be completed by 2021. Then, it will be the best of times, the worst of times for Thai buffet owners.