The Upper Reach Team interviewed ACM Prajin Juntong, where he explained the government’s plans to boost the infrastructure sector focusing on railway, airports, routes and the creation of special economic zones close to the border of neighboring countries.
The AEC integration is almost a reality and it will change the dynamics of the ASEAN region. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-O-Cha recently stated that Thailand must raise competitiveness to equal that of its neighbors, especially with some countries that can be considered to be both partners and significant economic competitors. The government is committed to improving Thailand’s competitiveness. Which are in your opinion the most relevant initiatives that this government has implemented to raise Thailand’s competitiveness?
Thank you for the interesting questions here. As you know, by 2015, ASEAN countries will join the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) comprising the three pillars, namely the ASEAN Political-Security Community, ASEAN Economic Community and ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community.
According to our goals to drive the national economy, we are committed to creating the political stability and security in order to result in a social and cultural bond that can bring us the happiness as aimed in line with the Thai government’s policy of “Restoring happiness to all Thais”.
Since the new government set up or since the military set up the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) in May 2014 until now, which has been over 7 months, we have followed the roadmap structure. Now, we have passed the first phase of the roadmap. We are now getting through the second phase of the roadmap and are hoping to move into the third phase of roadmap 3 as planned.
For the well-being of Thai people, we have to do things in parallel with the issuance of economic and social security.
Therefore, the current government has set the main vision and mission stating that “The government aims to take the lead in ensuring more security, wealth and sustainability in the country.”
However, firstly, we have to monitor our country’s status both in terms of politics and other aspects in order to seek out our weaknesses and strengths so that we can know what we have to improve in order to achieve the goals.
Our strong points we know well are a sense of love, deep unity and loyalty to the nation, religion and His Majesty the King.
However, the most important thing we have to do right now is to restore the hearts and souls of Thai people and make them come together in the same direction in order to drive the nation going forward.
In terms of economy, when the AEC is fully implemented, there will be a growing number of regional competitors coming to invest here in Thailand.
For preparation, we have to know our strengths and maintain our strong points. At the same time, we also open the country for foreign investors to come to invest, support and fulfill our weaknesses.
In terms of agriculture and industrial agriculture, we see our potential to grow.
In terms of business and tourism services and accommodations, transportations, we believe that we have strong points on such issue but we need to improve them more and more for better quality.
We are confident that in order to bring happiness to the people, we cannot do it just only for Thais, but we also need to take care of the other countries to grow up together and get along better.
In order to drive the national economy and plan for the construction of basic infrastructure for transportations, we should take into account the domestic and international connectivity of the basic infrastructure as well.
We are not relying on only Thai companies and Thai investors, but also foreign investors both in ASEAN and other countries outside ASEAN. We have agreements with partnering countries including Japan, China, Korea and European countries.
For further development of basic infrastructure, the Ministry of Transport has taken responsibility and proposed its 8-year strategy for transport infrastructure development and a master plan for 2015-2022.
According to the 8-year strategy for transport, infrastructure, and development and to the master plan for 2015-2022 proposed by the Ministry of Transport, there are 5 main parts for this project:
Project 1: Urban Connection (Building the interconnection of transportations in Bangkok) (Mass Transit in Bangkok)
This includes buses, subways, sky trains, public boats, taxis and other service vehicles. It aims to build up the connectivity for the transportations in Bangkok in order to provide more service convenience for passengers and passengers can travel from bus to train more conveniently or can travel for one-day tours more easier than the past. This will help reduce traffic congestion because people residing in Bangkok will have more choices of transportation services provided by the government. They will also be urged to use public transportation instead of using a private car. It could also help reduce energy and save the environment as well as to reduce stress. And in the future, travelers from abroad including ASEAN countries can manage their plan to travel in Bangkok more conveniently and safely.
For the plan of building the interconnection of transportations in Bangkok, we have two main parts comprising 1) Laying down basic infrastructure, and 2) Operation. We are ready to open for foreign investors to invest in this area. Today, for the progress of the network of 10 transportation lines, 4-5 lines were also completely built. And we are going to complete 1-2 lines in 2015. By 2022, I believe that about 90% of the overall construction of the network of transportation will be progressed. Now, there are investors who invest in civil work and finance to support this project. They mostly come from Japan and European countries.
Project 2: Rail connection (Connecting the railway network across the country and to neighboring countries)
For the railway system, we have currently used the ‘one meter single track’ rail system and we have plans to upgrade this current system to ‘one meter dual track’ system. Today, Thailand's existing railway routes total 4,000 kilometers. We also plan to upgrade from ‘one meter single track’ to ‘one meter dual track’ 2,500 extra kilometers, which will help increase the potential to serve more passengers and cargos and products will be shipped much faster, on time, and more safely. However, the majority of planned dual-track railway development in the country is set to involve one-meter wide tracks, to match existing train lines.
The second railway system in Thailand is called ‘1.435 m standard gauge dual-track’ in which trains will be operated at speeds of 160-180 kilometers. We also plan to expand this system across the country. Our targeted distance for this expansion is about 3,000 kilometers.
For the priority, we have agreed to start building a railway starting from Nongkhai-Khon Kaen-Nakhon Ratchasima-Saraburi to Bangkok and from Saraburi to Rayong. Our second priority is the construction of railway connectivity of East-West corridor which has two main lines. The first line is lower East-West corridor, starting from Tak which is close to Myanmar to Bangkok and from Bangkok to Aranyaprathet. The second line is upper East-West corridor which starts from Mae Sod which is close to Myanmar, to pass the central part of Thailand to the eastern part to Mukdaharn in order to connect Bangkok with Laos and Vietnam. We are now studying the feasibility and making exploration and design on this issue. The 1.435-metre standard-gauge tracks that China will help develop could serve trains at speeds of up to 250 kph, although feasibility studies must be carried out to confirm this.
The next railway line we plan to build starts from Bangkok to the south in order to connect Bangkok with Padang Besar in Malaysia. In Thailand, there are rail connections with these two systems (Upper East-West corridor and lower East-West corridor).
We also plan to connect rail network with neighboring countries. We plan to build Kunming-Vientiane-Bangkok railway in the future. More rail routes we plan to construct are from Bangkok to Padang Besar in Malaysia and from Malaysia to Singapore. However, the Kunming – ASEAN railway will be the first line that will be completed before other rail lines that connect China with ASEAN.
There are other two lines that connect China to ASEAN. The first line is from Kunming-Northern Vietnam-lower Vietnam -Cambodia – Bangkok - Malaysia – Singapore. The second line is from Tali of China-Myanmar-Western part of Thailand-Bangkok-Malaysia-Singapore.
For investment, you all know that we have joined forces with China to develop a railway system, infrastructure for the Nong Khai-Bangkok-Map Ta Phut rail route. For the development of other rail routes, we are in the process of negotiation with Japan, Korea, Germany and France.
I already mentioned two projects which include 1. Urban Connection 2. Rail system connectivity.
Project 3: Upgrading the airports
The third project is a plan to modify and upgrade our airports including Suvarnabhumi airport, Don Mueang airport and the navy’s Utapao airport.
Right now, Suvarnabhumi airport is expected to serve over 60 million passengers a year. Now, Suvarnabhumi airport has to handle around 50 million passengers annually, above its original capacity of serving 45 million people a year. We expect that there are more 20 million passengers a year, so we need to build more service area and parking area here. At the same time, we need to construct the third runway because the first and the second runway will go to the overhaul phase in the next two years.
So, for the expansion of the Suvarnabhumi airport, we will separate into two parts. The first part includes plans to construct a third runway which is also called the alternative runway. The second part is a construction plan of a domestic passenger terminal building at Suvarnabhumi Airport, the parking lots and the tunnel from the main terminal to the parking lots.
At Don Mueang airport, this airport services almost 39 million passengers a year. We need to be ready to serve over 45 million passengers per year. Therefore, we need to build more new terminals and parking space. In front of the Don Mueang airport, the traffic is quite congested.
The traffic lanes or surface roads are reduced from 4 lanes to 2 lanes, causing the traffic congestion in front of the airport. In order to alleviate the traffic problem, we then plan to construct sky train railway connecting to the Don Mueang Airport. This is called Red Line electric railway linking from Mochit or Chatuchak to Rangsit and then pass to Don Mueng Airport. And the second one is the airport rail link that will connect from Phrayathai to Don Mueng and also link to Suvarnabhumi airport. This will solve the traffic problem in Don Mueang and that can serve 45 million passengers per year. It may take two or three years from now to finish a construction.
Let’s talk about Utapao International Airport.
Utapao International Airport is the Royal Thai Navy military airbase. We can say it is a strategic airport as many other flights were diverted to Utapao when the Suvarnabhumi airport and Don Mueang airport faced heavy traffic of chartered or scheduled flights. This year, we plan to manage such things better very soon. We will separate sections dividing them into a security section and a civilian section. This year, we need to make a master plan and next year we plan to transform this airport in Rayong into a modern airport for civilian use. Things are under consideration from all related parties. We plan that the Utapao International Airport will have capacity to accommodate 15 million passengers annually in the next 5 years. Now, the airport services only 1 million passengers per year. You may know that there are many attractive areas including both industrial areas, seaport and tourism areas in many provinces of Thailand such as Pattaya, Rayong, Chanthaburi, Trat and many more, so if we can bring some of the chartered flights or scheduled flights from Suvarnabhumi airport to Utapao airport, this is going to be better and solve some problem in Suvarnabhumi airport, especially the heavy congestion of the flights.
These are our three international airports that our current government has planned to modify and raise standards in terms of services and safety.
The estimated cost of the construction of the third run way in Suvarnabhumi airport is around 20 billion baht. For the terminals and some other projects we call “Phrase 2 Suvarnabhumi” may cost another 60000 million baht. And Don Mueang Airport improvements will cost about 10 billion baht to raise its passenger-handling capacity to 30 million annually. For Utapao’s development, we still don’t know yet how much we need to invest.
There are other airports like Phuket airport that we also need to modify but because of the physical constraints, so we cannot expand runway and terminal. But we can upgrade the existing terminals with an estimated cost at 5 billion baht. The plan was aimed at increasing public convenience. Now, Phuket airport serves around 11 million passengers a year, we expect to serve passengers up to 18 million passengers per year. That is a maximum capacity. We also spent money on this project already.
In Chiangmai, we also plan to upgrade Chiangmai International Airport as Chiangmai can connect daily flights to China, Korea, Japan and to other countries in Europe. We are studying on the feasibility on how to upgrade Chiangmai International Airport to become a more efficient international airport in the northern part of Thailand. This is the third group of the project.
Project 4: Seaport expansion project
Talking about seaport, as you know there are other seaports that are situated not too far from Utapao. They are Map Ta Phut in Rayong and Laem Chabang in Chonburi, the two main seaports of Thailand. Map Ta Phut is the industrial deep sea port. We plan to construct the new deep seaport in the southern part of Thailand, called “Pak Bala” sea port in Satun province. We are now on the study of the feasibility process because we don’t want the people to understand that when we build the seaport, everything will be the same. We will not harm or touch the national park. Some physical lands might be changed because we need to connect Pak Bala to Songkhla seaport. The Songkhla seaport and Chumporn seaport on the middle of the Southern area will also be upgraded in the future. We do not focus on only the domestic expansion project, we also do have a international joint expansion project for seaport with Myanmar. We called this project “Dawei project” in the Andaman sea.
Right now, we are on the process of negotiation between Myanmar, Thailand and China to invest in the Dawei project. You can see if this project fully completed, we can transport everything from Europe, from India or from Andaman sea more easily. We come to Dawei seaport and cross a sort of land bridge to Thailand and Cambodia or Vietnam or they can come to Thilawa in Yangon, and then come by land to Mae Sot in Tak province and Mae Sot to Mukdaharn and then from Mukdaharn to Laos and to Vietnam connecting to the South Pacific.
This will be very useful for everyone, not only Myanmar, Thailand, Laos or Vietnam, but it will also be useful for countries in the Andaman sea and the South Pacific. This is our seaport expansion project. Now I don’t know about the exact number of investment budget we are going to spend on this project. But it will be coming out soon. And this is the fourth group of the project.
Project 5: Road expansion project
In Thailand, we have main roads, local roads, highways and motorway roads. This aims to increase public convenience and meet various demand of the people. Our road expansion project also aims to connect people to 6 special economic zones. We are going to have 6 special economic zones in five provinces in 2015-2016. And in 2016-2017, there will be more 6 special economic zones in Thailand. Therefore, we have to connect city to city and city to economic zone and economic zone connects to the neighboring countries. This is going to be a big project for us.
However, all 5 main projects I have mentioned earlier did not include some projects that belong to the state enterprise worth close to 2.4 trillion baht.
What advice would you give to the investors?
I believe that with my long experiences, especially my British experiences, this is a good opportunity for investors, especially British investors to approach, invest and join us in 3 areas including airport expansion project, seaport expansion and the urban connectivity, for example the sky train expansion which can be a good opportunity for British investors. But they have to come very soon. Please come very soon.
How would these investors would interact with the government? Do they have to partner with authorities or under your ministry. Please give us guidance to make them not hesitate.
For the initial approach, it can be in form of Government-to-Government (G2G) approach or Public agencies-to-Public agencies approach. For example, your Transport Minister can talk to me. In terms of policy level, Prime Minister can talk to Prime Minister of each country. For the operational level, you can contact directly to each related state enterprise or contact the Airports of Thailand (AoT) or the Port Authority of Thailand (PAT) or Mass Rapid Transit Authority of Thailand (MRTA) including Bangkok Mass Transit Authority (BMTA). They are available for you right now. There are 2 levels on policy level to minor level. (Prime Minister to Prime Minister or Public Department to Public Department or state enterprise. And most of the agencies are state enterprises.)
Your Excellency, allow me to ask you the very last question. You are now one of the most relevant ministers of Thailand because of all the infrastructure plans that will change the life of many Thais. How do you feel yourself to work and take responsibility to change the people’s life in Thailand?
As you know, after I took this position in May 2014, I was not prepared to work on this mission because I used to be the military officer, so when I came to work under the NCPO, I felt very stressed, but I tried because we are one team now. We need to work for the nation and work for people to bring the peaceful time back to them. We need to restart the democracy as the people wished for. I became the Transport Minister of Thailand after the current government set up. I have used my 4 years-military experiences from the Air Force. I have talked to my staff and contacted to ones who are responsible to many missions in the Ministry of Transport. I made decisions and started doing the strategic and master plan, followed by the action plan. There is going to be some umbrella to run and serve the people in the same objective. I start with the organizing of the workshop on land, on sea and in the air and control everything in line with strategies and keep doing another master plan and action plan so that I and my team can follow on in order to serve all people living in Thailand. For regulations and the system of Thai law, they still need some time to make it transparent and make it to be in line with the Corporate Government to make people believe that there will be no corruption and no illusion or fakeness anymore. We will work everything with sincerity to run our missions going forward. However, there are still some obstacles because everyone may not think in the same way. Some sides may like this project while other sides may dislike it. We have to balance and move forward together. We cannot make everyone happy or support them all under the same objective, but we will listen to the majority and minority and manage the resources for each project effectively to meet various need of the majority and minority group. Everyone will get the positive results from all missions and projects of the Ministry of Transport in the same time in many areas. However, as I work on many projects at the same time, all things depend on priority which plays great roles in driving Thailand going forward.