On Thursday, passengers wait for trains on a platform at Hua Lamphong Station. (Photo: Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)
The sound of a station bell faded as a train was about to leave its platform at Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong Station. Soon the bell will no longer be used while the century-old station will become history when it is closed next month.
“I don’t want Hua Lamphong to shut down. The train is the fastest way for me to get from my home in northern Bangkok to downtown to work,” Wathinee Manirat said.
It took her about 15 minutes for a one way trip from Bang Sue Station to Hua Lamphong. The rate was only two baht. During the economic downturn amid the Covid-19 pandemic, every baht counts and the train is his preferred option.
Ms Wathinee has taken the train to Hua Lamphong for years, as have other passengers from other parts of Thailand.
“I often take the train to Bangkok because the fare is cheap and it saves me money,” said Pakkaporn, 40, a farmer.
Video: Jetjaras Na Ranong
The Hua Lamphong terminal has served commuters and travelers from all walks of life for 105 years. Built in 1910 during the reign of King Rama V, the station was designed in neoclassical style by Italian architect Mario Tamagno, who designed several historic buildings in the capital such as Bang Khun Phrom Palace, Phitsanulok Mansion and the Neilson Hays Library.
When the station opened on June 25, 1916 during the reign of King Rama VI, it was considered an icon of modernization. Currently, the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) offers 118 daily train trips to and from Hua Lamphong and serves tens of thousands of passengers per day.
In less than a month, the service could be a memory. The plan is to close the terminal on December 23 before all rail services move to the newly built Bang Sue Grand Station, about 9 km north of Hua Lamphong Station.
“It is not a sudden decision,” said Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob.
It has been under construction since the government approved the construction of Bang Sue Grand Station in 2013 to make it the capital’s main rail port.
The minister also explained that he wanted to make the most of the Bang Sue Grand station, worth 34 billion baht, when it opened on December 24. ” he said.
The ministry is also planning to cut daily train trips to 10 pm and even reschedule schedules to avoid rush hours.
He ordered the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority to introduce a new public bus line connecting Bang Sue stations to Hua Lamphong stations, replacing the missing link in the Red Line electric commuter train service that is slated for connect the two stations but has not yet been built.
Above all, the minister wants to help cope with the losses of the SRT. “I want to see a real improvement in rail services so that SRT can turn its huge losses into profits,” he said.
SRT founded SRT Assets in April 2020 to manage all of its assets. “We plan to earn income from land owned by SRT, including the land where Krung Thon station is located, Royal City Avenue and the land where Hua Lamphong is located,” Saksayam said.
SRT Asset’s business plan indicates that within 30 years, it hopes to transform the unprofitable state-run SRT into a for-profit business.
“SRT has operated the train service for over a century and was in debt 600 billion baht. Our goal is to make the business profitable within 30 years with a profit of 800 billion baht. I will not be there. to see that but I believe that we have a good plan to make it happen ”, declared the Minister.
The development debate
The Hua Lamphong station is on a 120 rai site on the Rama IV road and the land stretches about 1.5 km in length to the Kasat Suk intersection on the Rama I road. The terminal was renovated several times and this time it will be a major facelift.
“We will develop the Hua Lamphong land into a mixed-use project that includes commercial spaces, public spaces and conservation areas,” said Trithip Sivakriskul, board member and interim general manager. Bangkok Post.
The location is between the old and the new district of Bangkok. To the west are Yaowarat and Talat Noi and to the east is the central business district such as the Samyan district. The station is accessible by public buses, via the metro and also by the public boat service along Khlong Phadung Krung Kasem.
SRT Asset plans to develop the land while preserving some historic buildings. The buildings will be renovated into museums or learning centers telling the story of rail service from the past to the present day, she said.
“We will keep the structure of the Hua Lamphong dome, the SRT headquarters and the red building. They are emblematic monuments. Rama V hit the first knot on a railroad track, ”she said.
SRT will also develop the land into public parks, community shopping centers or retail stores and hotels. “We will develop Hua Lamphong station to make it a ‘transport link gauge’ which is a connecting hub for commuters, like famous stations in other metropolises such as Tokyo station in Japan,” said she declared.
As part of its development plan, SRT Asset will engage a consulting firm to conduct a feasibility study and present the details of the plan to be proposed to the Minister of Transport and the cabinet for approval.
She insisted that the proposal should follow the development objective of the SRT which is to preserve historic structures and develop other parts for public and commercial use.
A source at SRT told the Bangkok Post than the land of Hua Lamphong, which is valued at 2.4 million per square wah, falls under the blue zone of the city plan as developed by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA).
The blue zone is an area that belongs to the government. BMA approval is needed to change the blue zone to a red zone, i.e. a commercial zone, before the project can start, the source said.
The closure of Hua Lamphong and its development plan have raised concerns among commuters, academics and NGOs. The SRT union has launched an online campaign on Change.org asking people to petition the Minister of Transport to ask him not to close the station. The campaign has almost reached its goal of 5,000 signatures.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said he told the minister that development should benefit people. In response, the director of the SRT’s public relations center, Ekarat Sriarayanpong, said the minister had ordered the SRT to hold public hearings. He insisted that the SRT had no plan to demolish or destroy the iconic station. The SRT will hear what people have to say before shutting down the station, he said.
THE NEXT MOVEMENT
Academic teams from various universities and institutes recently teamed up to take a look at what’s in store for Hua Lamphong. They found that the site should be promoted as a creative space with the coexistence of cultural and historical preservation and commercial space.
“People think that Hua Lamphong station belongs to all Thais, so if SRT wants to develop the site, it should involve all parties,” said assistant professor Fuangarun Preededilok, responsible for the feasibility study on the site. “Bangkok Railway Station (Hua Lamphong) Conservation and Development Project”.
The study was funded by SRT and Thailand Science Research and Innovation. This was a joint project of research teams from Chulalongkorn University, King Mongkut University of Technology in Thonburi, Thammasat University, Naresuan University and the Institute of the Arts Arsom Silp.
The team interviewed approximately 1,600 participants in nine sectors, including local communities, SRT executives, the SRT union, passengers, tourism professionals, travelers, academics, property developers and agencies. government.
He found that the 120 rai site can be developed into five areas including public parks (accounting for around 16% of the territory) and a recreation area (18%) where people can organize events or outdoor activities such only musical performances.
The third is a creative space (18%) for the promotion of art exhibitions. The fourth is a commercial area (30%) where the SRT can use the land to earn money. The last area is the Conservation Area (18%) and which includes five historic buildings such as the Dome Terminal.
“Hua Lamphong station can be renovated into a living museum. Train service should always be available to create traffic and this will make the station bustling,” she said, adding that the train service can include short daily trips to suburban areas or be available for special occasions. The service will not only serve commuters, but may also entice travelers to visit the century-old station, she added.
Thip Srisakulchairak, architect at the Arsomsilp Institute of the Arts, said SRT should follow the business models of other old stations abroad that offer train rides to commuters. “I don’t want us to lose another historic and remarkable building. I think the old and the new should coexist,” he said.