Today, Thailand’s military government, the Thai National Council for Peace and Order, approved two massive railway projects to link Bangkok and the southern coast with southern China and Laos.

A 737-kilometer line will extend from northeastern Nong Khai to coastal Map Ta Phut in Rayong province. Another line will run from northern Chiang Khong in Chiang Rai province to Ayutthaya province.

thailand new rail liinesThe lines will run trains capable of 160 kilometers per hour.

The two rails will cost more than $23bn total, and construction is expected to begin next year, with a projected completion in 2021.

The rail lines will eventually be tied into a greater system of high-speed rails that are planned to connect all of Southeast Asia. Much of the push for this network has come from China.

China’s line to connect its southwestern Yunnan Province with Singapore is expected to transform rural Laos, where the majority of the 6.5 million Laotians have never ridden a train. China aims to sell goods in Southeast Asia while receiving natural resources in return.

However, the Chinese plan is not going as smoothly in Burma, where a plan to link Arakan State with China was recently abandoned over potential cost and environmental concerns. The line was to cost $20bn and would have been operated by China for 50 years before being handed over to the Burmese government.

China also has plans to connect to Tibet, India, Nepal and Bhutan by 2020.

By Sid Douglas