Businesses are urging the government to set up a rail transport committee chaired by the prime minister to help accelerate rail network development and cut logistics costs.A team inspecting a cargo train after it went off the track in Prachuap Khiti Khan province on Oct 2, 2014. (Bangkok Post file photo)“A new committee is desperately needed to overhaul the country’s entire rail system, not only restructuring the State Railway of Thailand but also passing relevant laws and regulations as well as decentralising, ” said Isara Vongkusolkit, chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, speaking yesterday in his capacity as chairman of Thailand’s Joint Standing Committee on Commerce, Industry and Banking.The National Council for Peace and Order in July approved a 2.4-trillion-baht infrastructure plan through 2022 covering dual-track rail, electric trains, highways, waterways and airports.Two high-speed rail routes costing a combined 741 billion baht will link Thailand and southern China.The Nong Khai-Map Ta Phut route will cover 737 kilometres and cost 393 billion baht, while the Chiang Khong-Phachi route will be 655 km and cost 349 billion.Construction is scheduled to last until 2021.The dual-track plan includes six one-metre-gauge routes covering 887 kilometres — from the Jira junction in Nakhon Ratchasima to Khon Kaen (185 km); Prachuap Khiri Khan to Chumphon (167 km); Nakhon Pathom to Hua Hin (165 km); Map Kabao in Saraburi to Nakhon Ratchasima (132 km); Lop Buri to Pak Nampho in Nakhon Sawan (148 km); and Muang to Hua Hin districts in Prachuap Khiri Khan (90 km).The dual-track plan, worth a combined 127 billion baht, is due to start construction next year.Mr Isara said the government was also being urged to speed up formulating measures aimed at boosting exports and the sluggish economy.“Businesses are now gravely concerned about export prospects, as farm products, particularly rubber, have yet to recover due mainly to weak demand from the major importers such as the US and Europe, economies that have yet to recover fully as expected,” he said.“We’re afraid exports could see flat growth or even a contraction of 1% this year.”The Commerce Ministry late last month reported August exports fell to a 32-month low as the weak global economy brought lower-than-expected demand.Exports slumped 7.4% year-on-year in August to US$18.9 billion following a decrease of 0.85% in July, with shipments in the first eight months of this year shrinking 1.36% to $151 billion.Imports fell for a 14th straight month in August, plunging 14.2% year-on-year to $17.8 billion, while imports in the first eight months dropped by 12.7% to $150 billion.The drop was attributed mainly to slower domestic consumption and exports as well as lower demand for automobiles following expiry of the previous government’s first-time car buyer scheme.Mr Isara said the private sector also wanted the government to spur border trade and lift martial law in certain areas to boost tourism.

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