Bangkok fi­nally gets SOME MO­TION

RE­LIEF – IN THE FORM OF LONG-AWAITED AND BADLY NEEDED EX­TEN­SIONS TO THE SKY­TRAIN AND SUB­WAY SYS­TEMS – IS ON THE WAY AT LAST

The Nation - - OPINION & ANALYSIS -

Bangkok and the prov­inces on its pe­riph­ery are un­der­tak­ing their big­gest- ever con­struc­tion projects, build­ing new Sky­train and sub­way lines in a bid to dou­ble the cap­i­tal’s ex­ist­ing rail mass-tran­sit net­work, from 109 to 212 kilo­me­tres over the next five years.

Al­to­gether five new and ex­tended routes will be added to the pre­sent sys­tem – thanks to the speedy de­ci­sion-mak­ing process over the past four years en­abling mul­ti­ple in­fra­struc­ture mega-projects of this mas­sive scale to go ahead in one burst. So far, no ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties have been un­cov­ered with re­gard to the im­ple­men­ta­tion of these multi­bil­lion­baht con­struc­tion schemes and the rout­ings ap­pear gen­er­ally sound tech­ni­cally, with no re­ports of po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence to di­vert routes for vested busi­ness in­ter­ests.

Bangkokians got their first two Sky­train lines nearly two decades ago, af­ter which route ex­ten­sions were com­par­a­tively short and slow – with the ex­cep­tion of the MRT sub­way lines and, later, the Air­port Rail Link. Af­ter the long wait, con­struc­tion of over 100km of new lines is now un­der­way al­most si­mul­ta­ne­ously.

While Bangkok’s traf­fic is un­doubt­edly set for fur­ther rounds of heavy con­ges­tion, es­pe­cially around the mul­ti­ple build­ing sites ap­pear­ing in var­i­ous sub­urbs, res­i­dents should be pa­tient, given that their night­mare will be for the city’s long-term good.

Three of the new lines should be fin­ished within the next three years, while the other two will be ready in about five years. Once they’re com­pleted, Bangkok will have one of the most ex­ten­sive public tran­sit net­works among big cities, re­duc­ing de­pen­dence on the use of pri­vate ve­hi­cles that have been chok­ing the city’s traf­fic flow for decades.

Even to­day, about 1,000 new ve­hi­cles are added to city streets on a daily ba­sis, while Bangkok faces many con­straints to build new roads to ac­com­mo­date the ex­tra traf­fic – from ever-ris­ing land ex­pro­pri­a­tion and build­ing costs to the scarcity of avail­able space. In fact, the me­trop­o­lis of more than 10 mil­lion peo­ple has less road sur­face than many other big cities, to­talling just 9 per cent of its to­tal ur­ban area, com­pared to 25 per cent in Tokyo and 30 per cent in New York City.

The re­sult is traf­fic grid­lock dur­ing rush hours in most in­ner- city ar­eas, where traf­fic moves just 15km per hour on av­er­age. Yet the ma­jor­ity of Bangkokians use pri­vate ve­hi­cles to com­mute to work, ac­count­ing for 65 per cent of to­tal res­i­dents, while the rest use public trans­port.

Be­sides a more ef­fi­cient daily com­mute in­fra­struc­ture, the sprawl­ing new Sky­train and sub­way lines link­ing the in­ner city with sub­ur­ban ar­eas have sig­nif­i­cantly con­trib­uted to the rede­vel­op­ment of Bangkok as a thriv­ing com­mer­cial, res­i­den­tial and tourist hub among South­east Asian coun­tries. It will surge ahead of sev­eral other big cities in the re­gion in terms of hav­ing an ex­ten­sive public tran­sit ser­vice, with 212km of Sky­train and sub­way lines in ser­vice by the end of 2023.

For the pe­riod af­ter that, a mas­ter plan has been for­mu­lated to fur­ther ex­tend the lines to a to­tal of 464km over the next two decades, putting Bangkok among the world’s top five big cities with the largest rail mass-tran­sit sys­tem.

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