SRT – Thailand’s State Railway in distress

Written by Frank on November 25th, 2009

© Frank P. Schneidewind

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© Video by SIAMPEDIA

Thailand’s over a century old rail system is narrow gauge and mostly single track. This doesn’t allow for 21st century speeds, but it’s still being operated and hauls quite a number of passengers in 3 different classes of service. Tourists, which have to catch planes at any nationwide airport should refrain from rail services, their useage of timetables and schedules does not operate on western standards!

Equipment is being called “time-bombs” by leading local media and recent fatalities through derailments did cast a further bad shadow on the tracks. We have, however used long distance rail services in the past frequently and have just returned from Hat Yai in the far South. Other main lines lead North to Chiang Mai or East to Aranyaprathet, a Northeastern spur to Nong Khai has the lousiest railcars involved (wooden benches without any upholstery!) and was boycotted by us for orthopedic reasons in the past. Spurs to Trang, Sungai Kolok or Padang Bezar in the South and Kanchanaburi in the West do cater for residents there or tourists heading for destinations in those vicinities. A once daily service to and from Pattaya and Suphanburi is badly timed and often half empty. Efficiency doesn’t seem to play any factor on the rails.

The engines have a bad reputation with barely enough on hand for the daily service. Strikes hemmed efficiency and reliability bad in the recent past. It is said, that a large percentage of Thailand’s 212 engines is seriously damaged (“fubar”, in new English) and currently being cannibalized for spare parts to keep enough rolling stock on the rails. Copied parts are a major cause for failures and accidents, nobody gets his wrist slapped in Thailand for operating equipment with faulty brakes or security relevant parts made cheaply off-standard locally or in China. A person’s life doesn’t count for much here and the self-applauding governments from all the different parties, that ruled this country during the past decades, nobody dared to pay any attention!

The sleepers have outlasted their lifespan often 30 years ago, and rail securing technology from the 40’s is still being visible in many sections. Concrete sleepers with real gravel between them, a standard anywhere else, is being implied at a typical snail pace and may last a few more decades. SRT is not spending enough money to keep their train’s security switches and brakes active (reason for the recent deadly derailments), what do they worry about something so low as a sleeper for the rails.

The loud horns always work fine, no engineer would take on a journey without them! Countless unsecured railway crossings in the nation rack up a number of traffic fatalities per year, headline for a day only.

Engines are painted in a gright yellow, but paint is cheap and rust is plenty! Rusty parts overpainted last a little while longer, so their philosopy. So don’t get taken away by the colorful paintjobs on engines, that’s just a disguise for people believing in postcards and their motives!

 

Check the railcars and couplings for structural damages, oil leaks and hissing pressure hose connections – but well, people use these rolling pieces of trash daily, because a bus would cost them triple the fare. There is no alternative to SRT’s best-selling 3rd class fare, nowhere in the country!

Attacks with semi auto fire from muslim insurgents and bombings of rail-targets have halted the services south of Hat Yai quite often. Armed patrols accompany every train now and they are army rangers, well trained!

 

But we will concentrate on the service provided, not on the technical rapping the SRT is permanently getting from it’s own workers, engineers and the print media.

Train travel does have indeed positive sides, those will be featured in the follow-ons here for you on siampedia.org

Stay tuned for our essences from 15.000+ KM of train travel over the last couple of years here, we used all available classes of service – some of those never ever again :). We start with the 1st class sleeper-cabin tomorrow, cozy and not too bad – but pricier than a budget airline ticket!


 

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