Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Thailand's Airport-Bangkok link faces further delay

Strike ends after govt pledge of union's role in SRT reorganisation

The opening of the high-speed rail link between Suvarnabhumi Airport |and inner Bangkok, scheduled for December 5, could be further delayed following this week's strike by railroad workers.

Hundreds of State Railway of Thailand employees returned to work yesterday evening after paralysing much of the national rail service for 36 hours.

Deputy Prime Minister Sanan Kachornprasart said the SRT labour union had agreed to end the strike following the government's pledge that the union would participate in reorganising the money-losing state agency.

The SRT is in the process of setting up two wholly owned companies: one for train operations and the other for real-estate management.

The company in charge of train operations will be responsible for running the 28.6-kilometre Airport Rail Link, which is due to open in December.

"I'm not sure if the rail link can still be opened as scheduled, because the process to form the SRT company will be halted until negotiations between the SRT union and the agency's top management are concluded," Transport Minister Sophon Saram said yesterday.

He said he hoped the talks would not be protracted and could be concluded within two weeks, or else the SRT would face greater financial damage.

IMAGE AT RISK

The country's international image would also take a further hit if the multibillion-baht elevated rail service between Suvarnabhumi Airport and the inner city did not start operation as scheduled, he added.

The high-speed rail service between the international airport - located in the suburbs of Bangkok - and Makkasan Station was originally due to open in August, but construction delays led to a postponement.

Leaders of the SRT union, which went on a selective wildcat strike on Monday morning, causing disruption to hundreds of thousands of commuters, said they were concerned the SRT would further privatise other routes of the national rail service.

Yesterday, the union entered into a memorandum of understanding with the government to end the strike on condition there be further negotiations between the two sides over the SRT's reorganisation.

The SRT has been losing money for years, with accumulated losses amounting to more than Bt70 billion.

Sanan said the SRT management would have to hold talks with the union, as the latter still lacked a clear understanding of the reorganisation plan aimed at boosting the agency's efficiency and reducing its chronic losses.

Sawit Kaewwan, president of the SRT union, said rail workers had needed to take the drastic action of the past two days in order to achieve the union's objective, even though many commuters were left stranded as a result.

Deputy Finance Minister Pradit Pataraprasit said the SRT needed to be reorganised quickly, because the government had committed to investing Bt170 billion in more railroad projects over the next few years.

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