The fate of Hua Lamphong station in Bangkok soars

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BANGKOK (The Strait Times / Asia News Network): For more than a century, Hua Lamphong Station has welcomed and sent tens of thousands of commuters every day to the heart of Bangkok’s Chinatown.

But it may soon be time for travelers to say goodbye to the historic Central Terminal, as Thailand’s Ministry of Transport considers downgrading to reduce congestion and turns to the new Bang Sue Grand station to serve as the main terminus of the route. capital city.

“Hua Lamphong is the first and last thing most people see when entering Bangkok or leaving for home by train,” freelance driver Siwakorn Phuangsupab, 34, told Straits Times. was about to make a 10-hour train ride to Chiang Mai to visit his family.

An earlier plan to shut down all rail services to the rail hub by last month has been put on hold, following outcry from commuters, environmentalists and railroad workers.

It remains operational as stakeholders, including the Ministry of Transport and Hua Lamphong operator, the State Railway of Thailand (SRT), study the impact of the move. A public hearing will also be organized, the SRT said.

For now, more than 100 trains continue to vibrate and rumble in and out of Hua Lamphong’s 12 platforms, serving commuters and travelers from all walks of life.

The journeys range from short-distance home-to-work journeys to cross-country journeys and the transport of goods. Even the luxury locomotive Eastern and Oriental Express, operating from Singapore to Bangkok, stops at the station.

You could almost say that all rail lines in Thailand lead to Hua Lamphong, as four of the five railway lines that stretch across the country end at the 105-year-old station. Previously, it served over 80 million passengers, but the Covid-19 pandemic has brought it down to 35 million.

Completed in 1916, the station is emblematic of modern Thai society through the development of its rail transport – an effort led by King Chulalongkorn.

The neo-Renaissance style building, which stands on a 193,600 m² complex, was designed by Italian architect Mario Tamagno and inspired by Frankfurt train station in Germany.

Today, Hua Lamphong – with its steel arched roof, interior adorned with wood and marble, and large stained glass windows flanking its atrium – has become synonymous with Bangkok.

“The station has been with us for so long, it has many memories for people,” said housewife Somboon Arpoinsengvichit, 60, who was taking the sleeper train north.

Architectural historian Chatri Prakitnonthakan considers Hua Lamphong to be one of Thailand’s “most beautiful and elegant public buildings”.

But more importantly, the station provided inexpensive intercity transport for working-class and low-wage workers heading to central Bangkok, with tickets starting at just a few baht.

But since 2013, the plan has been to move the central rail system to the large 90 billion baht (RM11bil) Bang Sue station, located in the suburb about 9 km north of Hua Lamphong. This means that commuters will have to use additional transport to reach central Bangkok.

“This is a clear sign that the government does not care about the quality of life of the lower class and the working class,” said Dr Chatri, associate professor at Silpakorn University in Bangkok.

“The cost of travel to the inner Bangkok area will increase needlessly.”

The large Bang Sue station opened last year and has 26 platforms over 270,000 m².

Billed as the largest train station in Southeast Asia, it will eventually become part of a network of high-speed rail services, including a line to China via Laos.

While train services for the new Red Line service have started at the station, it functions primarily as a temporary Covid-19 vaccination center.

Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob said in November that rail services from Hua Lamphong would be gradually reduced, with the station being downgraded eventually.

He said the move would reduce traffic congestion caused by periodic road closures at level crossings in Bangkok.

The debt-ridden SRT also intends to auction off parts of the resort’s land for commercial development, which could help pay off its 600 billion baht burden.

Authorities have repeatedly said that the iconic facade of the station will be preserved and part of the station will be turned into a museum.

The jobs of SRT workers are unlikely to be at stake, with Bang Sue Grand Station taking over as the main rail hub.

Acting union president Sarawut Saranwong believes Hua Lamphong is historically too important to stop functioning as a train station.

He hopes that even though commercial and public developments are eventually built on the site, train services – albeit less numerous than before – continue to ply the platforms.

“It was built to fulfill its function as a train station. Instead of becoming a ‘dead museum’, why not continue to use it as a train station so that it can be a ‘living museum’ for the enjoyment of the people,” did he declare. noted.


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