Bangkok Railway Station, more commonly known as Hua Lamphong, in Bangkok. (Photo by Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP)
Though most Bangkok commuters travel by Skytrain or MRT, some 10,000 still take the train daily to the capital’s Hua Lamphong Railway Station – and can’t help but dread the station’s closure.
Jumping on a train in Rangsit at about 7am, commuters arrive in the city’s heart at Hua Lamphong (officially known as Bangkok Railway Station) by 8.15am, just in time for work. If they leave Rangsit at 5.45am, the train gets them to Hua Lamphong Station by 6.50am.
Opting for other means of transport will either cost commuters more or take them longer to get to work. Yet from December 24, the Transport Ministry plans for trains to bypass Hua Lamphong and stop only at the Bang Sue Grand Station – if the opposition is not too strong.
Democrat Party deputy leader Dr. Samart Ratchapolsitte is worried that commuters will suffer if Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob goes ahead with the plan to switch Bangkok’s last stop from historic Hua Lamphong to the new national railway hub at Bang Sue.
He says it will take many commuters more time and money to get to work from Bang Sue, which is north of the city centre. Also, passengers arriving on long-distance trains will find it tough to get to the heart of Bangkok from Bang Sue with all their luggage.
Worse still, the planned Red Line link from Bang Sue Grand Station to the city center is yet to materialize. And when it does open, commuting will become a lot more expensive.
“Currently, people pay just Bt6 for a train ride from Rangsit to Hua Lamphong,” consumer rights campaigner Rosana Tositrakul pointed out on Facebook. “But if commuters have to get off at Bang Sue Grand Station, they will have to pay another Bt42 for an MRT ride to Hua Lamphong.”
Silpakorn University Student Club and Archaeology Student Committee are also against the plan to discontinue train services at Hua Lamphong Railway Station.
“We are worried about the plan,” their statement reads. “The plan does not support people’s public-transport needs.”
Opponents of the Transport Ministry’s move reject claims that the Hua Lamphong Railway Station must be redeveloped for commercial purposes so the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) can pay off its huge debts, or that the station’s closure will help ease traffic congestion in the area.
Democrat politician Samart, for instance, points out that the Red Line is designed to solve traffic problems in the area. Meanwhile, the government could consider building underpasses or overpasses for cars as a solution, he added.
Sawit Kaewvarn, former president of the SRT labor union, posted on social media that the government should stop telling the public that SRT has incurred huge losses while failing to mention the way that it operates.
“The public should be told that the government has a policy that requires SRT to offer services at a loss,” he said.
According to Sawit, the actual cost of a train ride is about Bt2 per kilometer. However, the government requires SRT to charge passengers just Bt0.24 per kilometer. Train fares have not risen since 1985.
Another concern is that closing Hua Lamphong Station may threaten its status as an important national heritage site.
Built in 1910, the station’s history is closely intertwined with Thailand’s railway history.
Commercializing its 120-rai plot of land may never compensate for the loss of its cultural and historical value, critics warn.
Transport Ministry’s explanation
In the face of opposition to the move, Saksayam said his ministry was ready to listen to opinions from all sides. Yet, it is obvious that he is determined to push ahead with closing Hua Lamphong as he has instructed relevant agencies to notify the public about the plan and ask for understanding.
“We will provide details about the conservation and commercialization of the train station,” he said. “We will also offer promotional fares on the Red Line for trips to and from Bang Sue Grand Station and Hua Lamphong.”
By Thai PBS World’s General Desk