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Rail station in limbo

As Krung Thep Abhiwat Central Terminal, formerly Bang Sue Central Station, gears towards full operation this week, questions have emerged about the future of the 105-year-old Hua Lamphong train station.

The State Railway of Thailand (SRT) said the new 34-billion-baht central terminal began selling train tickets on Tuesday. At the same time, the agency has made it the terminal station for all express and special express trains plus rapid trains for long-haul routes (except for those of the eastern region) shifting them from Hua Lamphong station.

It should be noted that the change is in line with the SRT’s original plan that was to be launched end of last year. However, public anger over the plan delayed the final curtain call for Hua Lamphong. The anger came from concerns over burdens being pushed onto passengers who now have to pay added fares if they need to get into town through the new central station.

Concerns have also been raised over a redevelopment scheme for the old site that may be a business windfall for those close to politicians.

The criticism forced Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to step in, ordering the SRT and the Transport Ministry to suspend the plan and conduct further studies and conduct public consultations.

Shortly before it opened the central terminal this week, the SRT released poll results which showed what was deemed to be public support for its controversial plan which includes the use of the central terminal for long-haul train services to the North, South and Northeast. The SRT said the poll, which designated Hua Lamphong for suburban routes, was held on Facebook from Oct 20-27.

Such a quick poll through a limited channel raises a question about reliability, not to mention transparency or the lack thereof. There were complaints by those with a Facebook account that they missed the poll, while a large number of train passengers may not necessarily be users of the social media platform.

In fact, the agency is already well aware of public criticism of the plan, and it is willing to offer supportive measures, like free Red Line tickets for long-distance passengers, should all the long-train services be moved to the central terminal, for instance. The free rides will help reduce costs for passengers, but won’t address other problems like inconvenience regarding changes in train connections.

Over the past several months, train passengers have been forced to pay extra fares as the SRT, following the launch of the Red Line last December, cancelled some stops in the outer parts of Bangkok, for instance, Laksi and Thung Song Hong.

In doing so, it suggested the passengers bound for the cancelled stations opt for the new line’s service which means extra fares. Supportive measures should be offered to these train passengers as well.

The SRT should hold a genuine poll conducted by agencies with expertise in statistics and poll-making to ensure inclusiveness. It must provide space for real passengers to voice opinions. More importantly, the SRT must seek public consultation on the function of Hua Lamphong station, if and how it will be used, and whether it serves the public’s best interest.

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