They might be cheap to travel in but they also have the reputation of being old and unreliable. Thailand’s railway system, praised as one of the best in Southeast Asia some 60 years ago, has never been seriously modernised since.
Although prices are extremely reasonable; a Bangkok-Chiang Mai day train costs on average THB520 for the 650 km ride, while a 1st class sleeper is priced from THB 2,000. The deterrent for many, however, is the time spent in the train; around 11 hours! And it is often in old carriages with only one or two electric plugs for the entire coach in case travellers need to recharge their phone.
But this will soon change as Thailand State Railways starts to take delivery of its first brand new train carriages; part of a large order of 115 new carriages delivered by China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation and China CNR Corporation.
By the end of 2017, all of Thailand’s long-haul network will have been equipped with the new trains. In total, three long-haul rail links will be equipped: Bangkok-Phitsanulok-Chiang Mai; Bangkok-Korat (Nakhon Ratchasima)-Ubon Ratchathani; Bangkok-Hua Hin-Surat Thani-Hat Yai and Bangkok-Ayutthaya-Nong Khai (/Vientiane).
Since August, the first carriages were put in service between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, offering conditions similar to a plane. Seats can be reclined with head and foot rests and there will be video monitors as well as USB chargers in most passenger carriages.
The toilets have also been modernised to match aircraft standards while restaurant cars will also be available. Best of all, the new trains should also be quicker with the SRT predicting that train travel times between Bangkok and Chiang Mai will be reduced by at least an hour and a half and possibly even more.
And fares will remain the same!
The newer rolling stock will see more competition in future as Thailand develops its high-speed train network. Two lines are due to be built next year: Bangkok-Nakhon Ratchasima, a joint project with China, and Bangkok-Chiang Mai, a joint project with Japan. However, both lines are unlikely to see their first trains before 2020 or 2021.
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