Bangkok airport rail link opens after long delays
By KINAN SUCHAOVANICH
updated 8/23/2010 9:10:31 AM ET
BANGKOK — A new high-speed train that links central Bangkok to the Thai capital’s main international airport in 15 minutes opened Monday after years of delays and with a few glitches that are still being ironed out.
Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport — Asia’s third busiest by passengers in the first half of this year according to Airports Council International — has for several years been the only major travel hub in the region to lack a direct rail link to the central city.
The Airport Rail Link was first approved by the Cabinet in 2003 and took almost seven years to complete. It was originally intended to open with Suvarnabhumi Airport in 2006 — which was rushed to completion and suffered some high profile embarrassments including a network of cracks appearing in the runways.
Several problems with the rail link still need to be fixed including loud door noises and the large gap between the train and platform in some stations. A baggage check-in service modeled on Hong Kong’s hyper-efficient airport express train has yet to begin operating.
Yet it costs half the price of a taxi at 100 baht or $3 for the 18-mile (28-kilometer) trip between the capital’s Makkasan station and Suvarnabhumi. The fare is a promotional rate that is expected to increase to 150 baht ($4.50) next year.
The express trains run every half hour at a maximum speed of 64 miles per hour (103 kilometers per hour), making it “the fastest rail system in the country,” State Railway of Thailand’s governor Yutthana Thapcharoen was quoted as saying in The Bangkok Post.
A local, commuter line that runs parallel to the express train and makes a half dozen stops costs between 15 baht and 45 baht (50 cents and $1.40), depending on where passengers board.
Critics say the express train’s Bangkok station, the Makkasan station, is inconveniently located and not connected to other mass transit lines.
A check-in service that will enable passengers in Bangkok to get boarding passes and check-in luggage is not yet in place but is expected to begin working in November, said Watcharachan Sirisuwannatash, the Airport Rail Link’s chief operating officer.
“This is a still a trial period for us,” said Watcharachan. “There are things that we need to improve, including accessibility and the management of traffic around the main stations.”
The express train began operating in June as part of a soft launch that offered free rides and attracted about 17,000 passengers a day, Watcharachan said. He estimated daily traffic will initially rise to 20,000 and increase to 40,000 a day next year.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press
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