Proposed Land Bridge Project Southern Thailand
Thailand’s new prime minister recently announced his government’s intention to reconsider the Land Bridge Project in southern Thailand, creating an alternative trade route for vessels to bypass the congested Straits of Malacca. Although this project has been contemplated since the 18th century, it never materialised until the current prime minister assumed power. Originally, there were considerations for a canal connecting the Indian and Pacific Oceans, but the associated costs deemed it impractical. The updated proposal involves constructing two new ports in Ranong to the west and Chumphon to the east, linked by a 90 km road and rail system, with an estimated cost of U$ 28 billion. The Thai prime minister asserts that this land bridge could reduce average sailing time by four days and cut costs by 15%. However, implementing it could alter existing shipping routes through the Malaysian Straits, impacting business in Malaysian and Singaporean ports.
The claim that the land bridge will save four days of transit time is questionable, considering the logistics involved—offloading containers from vessels, transferring them onto trains, and reloading them onto vessels at the opposing port. Historical experience suggests that vessel offloading alone can take two to five days, especially during peak times. A single container vessel can handle 24,000 TEU, so calculating the number of trains required for such volume transportation raises concerns. Additionally, the time required to synchronise inbound and outbound vessels, even in well-managed ports like Singapore, is notable. The claim that the project will reduce freight costs by up to 15% is dubious, given the involvement of multiple parties in transporting containers between vessels and trains. Another aspect is the environmental impact of this mega project, which will require a detailed EIA (environmental impact assessment).
The project faces huge financial challenges, including potential budget overruns, making it difficult to attract investors unless willing to collaborate with China. Local opposition is another significant hurdle, worsened by recent political changes in Thailand. The likelihood of the project progressing in its current form seems unlikely.