Thai billionaire’s global consortium to bid for HSR project

BANGKOK • Billionaire Dhanin Chearavanont’s (picture) Charoen Pokphand Group Co Ltd is teaming up with companies from Asia and Europe to bid for a 225 billion baht (RM28.49 billion) high-speed rail (HSR) link connecting three international airports in Thailand.

The link, one of the largest transportation projects in Thai history, is a key part of the infrastructure agenda championed by the military government that seized power in May 2014. The winning bidder is due to be selected by January, according to the Eastern Economic Corridor Office, the agency overseeing the plan.

The consortium was prepared to submit a bid yesterday, Adiruth Thothaveesansuk, the vice chairman of Charoen Pokphand Group’s special projects development office, said in a statement released on Sunday.

The rail link would run between Bangkok’s two international airports and another near the tourist hot-spot of Pattaya, the U-Tapao International Airport in Rayong province. The project is linked to the Eastern Economic Corridor initiative, a 1.7 trillion baht plan to add infrastructure and advanced industries along the eastern seaboard.

Some 31 firms, mostly from Thailand, China and Japan, were studying the project’s terms, according to the Eastern Economic Corridor’s website. Bids from interested companies were due yesterday. A consortium led by BTS Group Holdings pcl, operator of Bangkok’s elevated metro, is also expected to compete for the contract.

“Charoen Pokphand Group has emerged as a very strong contender with its partnership with both local and overseas companies,” said Adisak Phupiphathirungul, a strategist at Thanachart Securities pcl in Bangkok. “It’s still hard to say who is the favourite, because the BTS-led consortium studied the project for quite a long time.”

A general election is possible in Thailand in late February next year, raising the question of whether the next civilian administration will adopt the same priorities — such as a push for high-speed train connections — as the military government.

The military government is trying to bolster investment in South-East Asia’s second-largest economy, part of a push to lift the pace of economic growth closer to levels seen in neighbouring nations. — Bloomberg