History of Thailand’s railway
Going back to the year 1887, during the reign of King Chulalongkorn, also known as King Rama V, there was a royal initiative to construct railways in Siam for stability and maintenance of the kingdom’s territory. This was due to the expansion of the English and French colonies covering the Indochina Peninsula.
King Rama V therefore commissioned Sir Andrew Clarke and Messrs Punchard Mac Taggart, Lowther & Co. to conduct surveys for the construction of railways from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, with branch lines from Saraburi to Nakhon Ratchasima, from Uttaradit to the Mae Nam Khong River in Tambon Tha Deua, and from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai and Chiang Saen.
The survey was completed in sections, a total of 8 sections, at an average salary for both Sir Andrew Clarke and Messrs Punchard Mac Taggart, Lowther & Co was about £100 per mile, or approximately 24,500 baht per kilometer. All the parties signed the contract on March 16, 1887.
In October 1890, His Majesty King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) ordered the establishment of the Department of Railways for the first time in Thailand. The construction of the railway began in the area near Bangkok railway station on March 9th,1891.
However, the only railway line that was ultimately constructed in the North ran from Bangkok to Chiang Mai with no additional branches. If we consider this railway construction as the first dream of a railway to Chiang Rai, it took a long time, almost 140 years.
Things are beginning to change. In 2028, Chiang Rai will have railway stations of its own.
The History of Den Chai–Chiang Khong Double-track Railway project – How it began and what is the progress now
The Northern doubl-track railway construction project of the Denchai-Chiang Rai-Chiang Khong route, which spans a distance of 326 kilometers, has its back in 1960 when the Thai government studied this route since 1960. The survey of the area started in in 1969, originally designating the route to be Denchai-Phrae-Song-Chiang Muan-Doi Kham Tai-Phayao-Padaed-Chiang Rai, with a total distance of 273 kilometers.
After a few years of study, the project did not progress much and finally it was abandon until 1994 when the government that time hire a few research companies to do some studies on the route between Denchai, Phrae province and Phayao. The update of the project had disappeared from the media until 2004 when Royal decree on land expropriation was issued to support the future development.
From 2004 – 2009, the project has progress very slowly and to the media, the project seemed to be abandoned again until 2010 when the government initiate the feasibility study on double-track system. Again the project had been very almost active due to series of political unrests since 2010.
After server years of studies and debates, finally the cabinet approved the construction of the Double-Track Railway Project, Chaiya-Chiang Rai-Chiang Khong line in 2018. The construction consisting of 26 stations, 4 rail yards, 1 container yard, 4 railway tunnels, 40 overpasses and 102 underpasses. The project started from Phrae, Lampang, Phayao, Chiang Rai, and extended to Chiang Khong
In 2023 the Thai government is making progress on the construction of a new dpuble-track railway line, also known as the “Denchai-Chiang Rai-Chiang Khong” line. As the Prime Minister is urging the project to be carried out according to plan, now the land reclamation process is accelerating. Several construction sites have been started and will hand over to the State Railway of Thailand after completion, which is expected to be operational in 2028.
The “Double-Track North Railway Project” is to span 323 kilometers with a construction cost of 72.921 billion baht. The objective of the project is to connect travel and transportation from Thailand to Laos and China.
As of today, the railway is currently under construction and is in the process of reclaiming land, with the contractor having started clearing the areas for ground works since mid 2022. Overall, the project at the end of 2022 has made progress of 0.051% which is slower than the plan by 0.102%. The project is expected to take 71 months or about 6 years to complete and to open to the public in 2028.
The project starts from Den Chai Station in Phrae Province, heading north through Lampang, Phayao, and ends at the Chiang Khong border checkpoint in Chiang Rai Province. This is considered a historic railway route that has been studied for a long time since 1960, passed through several governments and it was approved by the cabinet in 2018, marking the unlocking of a 60-year waiting period.
The project will open up four provinces in the northern region of Thailand, which are full of potential in tourism, economy, and trade. The line will pass through 59 tambon (or town) in 17 districts of 4 provinces, namely Phrae, Lampang, Phayao, and Chiang Rai, with a total of 26 stations, including 4 large stations, 9 small stations, and 13 halting points.
The facilities will include fences along the route, with 40 railway overpasses, 102 underpasses, as well as pedestrian bridges and automobile crossings over and under the railway track. The aims= of this facilities is to solve the problem of 254 level crossings along the route, making transportation safer and more efficient.
Apart from this, there are 4 loading yards and 1 cargo storage area at Chiang Kong Station, covering an area of 150 rai, along with a connecting road to Chiang Khong border checkpoint.
The project route in Phrae province has a distance of 77.20 kilometers and 6 stations, including Den Chai, Sung Men, Phrae, Mae Kham Mi, Nong Siao, and two stations.
In Lampang there are a distance of 52.40 kilometers and 3 stations, including Mae Tiap, Ngao, and Pong Tao, one station.
In Phayao province with a distance of 54.10 kilometers and 6 stations, including Phayao University, Ban Thok Huat, Phayao, Dong Jen, Ban Rong, and Ban Mai, and 11 stations.
Finally Chiang Rai has a distance of 139.40 kilometers including Pa Daet, Pa Ngae, Ban Pong Klua, San Pa Hia, Chiang Rai, Thung Kao, Wiang Chiang Rung, Ban Pa Sang, Ban Kiang Yong, Sri Don Chai, and Chiang Khong, which makes Chiang Rai the longest route among the 4 provinces.
When the construction of this railway project is completed, it will be a new statistical record to be the longest railway tunnel in Thailand with the total distance 13.5 kilometers. There are 2 tunnels in Amphoe Song, Province of Phrae, where Tunnel no. 1 has a length of 1.17 kilometers and Tunnel no. 2 has a length of 6.2 kilometers. Tunnel no. 3 is located in Mueang District, Phayao Province, with a length of 2.7 kilometers, and Tunnel no 4 is located in Doi Luang District, Chiang Rai Province, with a length of 3.4 kilometers which is the longest tunnel among the four.
As for the land reclamation, 8,665 plots of land to be reclaimed for the whole project, covering a total area of 12,076 rai, including 7,704 plots of land with title deeds, 783 plots of land for agricultural utilization given by Agricultural Land Reform Office (ALRO-401), 13 plots of forest area, 465 other plots, and 5,053 structures. The estimated budget for the reclamation is about 10 billion baht.
On both sides of the new railway line, passengers can enjoy the the view of the natural beauty, with lush green forests and refreshing scenic views reminiscent of Panoramama. As the train passes through mountains, rice fields, forest and tunnels, making it a beautiful railway journey with impressive views that should attract both Thai and foreign tourists.
The railway line not only supports the transportation of goods to southern China but also serves as a means of transportation for passengers, expecting an increase in both Thai and foreign tourists traveling to Mae Hong Son province to continue their journey to Chiang Rai and Chiang Khong district, crossing the border to neighboring countries.
The Denchai-Chiang Khong line is expected to reduce travel time by 1-1.30 hours compared to traveling by car, making it the railway of the future that will create added value in tourism, trade, and income generation for people in the areas the railway passes through.
Baes on rough estimation, first few years of the it is expected to have around 1.7 million people using the service per year and an initial volume of freight transportation of approximately 313,000 tons per year (excluding products from China), and a total of 1.6 million tons per year (including products from China).
It will also help reduce transportation costs in the long term, open doors to cross-border trade in the Northern region, create opportunities for Thai exports, and boost the investment in the country as well.
Source: The Thai Government Gazette