Transport planners are looking into a new rail route linking Trang with Satun and Phuket provinces as part of efforts to boost tourism to the South. The Office of Transport and Traffic Policy and Planning will speed up a feasibility study of the proposed route, said director Pheerapol Thawornsupacharoen. The rail line would pass through three provinces known for their seaside and marine tourism attractions, and is part of the southern transport infrastructure development plan. European tourists are among the targets, though planners say it will have local economic benefits as well. Mr Pheerapol said a separate feasibility study is also underway for a proposed “romantic route” linking Ranong, Phangnga, Phuket, Krabi and Trang by road, which targets key popular destinations for couples.
He said his office would work with the Rural Roads Department, the Highways Department and the State Railway of Thailand on the projects. The new routes were devised after the Joint Standing Committee on Commerce, Industry and Banking asked the government to commission new routes along the southern coasts. Mr Pheerapol’s office found the transport routes could be integrated into the land transport development plan for the southern provinces, and could also benefit transport of goods, particularly local products. The Trang-Phuket rail line study will be sped up as it will enable the cheaper transport of goods by freight train, the director said.
It could also help secure Thailand’s position as the region’s leading marine tourism destination, he added. The Transport Ministry has previously studied a possible East-West rail corridor connecting Surat Thani on the Gulf of Thailand sea coast with Phangnga and Phuket on the Andaman coast. The link aims to cut transport prices for tourists travelling to both coasts. Mr Pheerapol said a better choice of transport connections could make the tourism industries on both coasts more competitive.
In 2012, 24 million tourists visited the southern coastal provinces, with around 80% of them travelling to popular attractions in Surat Thani, Phuket, Phangnga and Krabi. Mr Pheerapol said the “romantic route” project had the potential to pull in couples from Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Agencies are focusing on proposals to build a light railway from Phangnga’s Tha Noon district to Phuket’s Tha Chalong intersection, via Phuket International Airport, he said. The 60km-long light rail route will also join the planned East-West rail corridor in Phangnga, he added.
Mr Pheerapol said his office has been in talks with the Highways Department over constructing the light railway from a flyover on top of the median strip of Phuket roads. This would avoid expropriating privately-owned land. It was yet to be decided whether the local administration organisation of Phuket or the Mass Rapid Transit Authority of Thailand would be responsible for building the light rail route, he said. The construction budget has not yet been disclosed. Mr Pheerapol said he expected a decision to be made this week on the project, which will be open to private sector investment under a public-private partnership (PPPs).
By the end of the year, details of the project will be finalised and sent to the Office of the Commission for the Management of Land Traffic, he said. The commission will consider the design and decide what kind of PPP investment will be suitable. Mr Pheerapol said the Transport Ministry was also looking at the feasibility of upgrading Phuket’s transit system.