In a recent visit to Ranong on January 22, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin expressed confidence in the potential benefits of the 1-trillion-baht Land Bridge megaproject designed to connect Ranong with Chumphon. The ambitious venture encompasses the development of deep-water ports, a motorway, and a railway system. This strategic initiative aims to alleviate congestion on the Strait of Malacca, a critical global oil route, while fostering development and foreign investment in Thailand’s southern region.
During the inspection of the construction site at Laem Son National Park, the Prime Minister, accompanied by Interior Minister Anutin Charnvirakul and Transport Minister Suriya Juangroongruangkit, received updates at Laem Ao Ang. The presence of high-ranking officials highlights the government’s commitment to advancing the Land Bridge project, despite concerns raised about its potential environmental impact and effects on the local fishery industry.
The Rak Phato Network, a conservationist group from Chumphon province, has voiced apprehensions regarding the project’s potential harm to sea biodiversity. These concerns underscore the delicate balance between economic development and environmental conservation.
In response to environmental worries, the government plans to conduct further studies on the project’s environmental impact while exploring opportunities in wellness tourism for Ranong. Prime Minister Srettha assured that, if successful, the Land Bridge project would bring diverse opportunities to the Andaman region.
Foreign Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara recently announced a proposed budget of 447 million baht for 20 Quick Win projects in the Andaman region. This budget, subject to cabinet approval, is slated for discussion during a mobile cabinet meeting on January 23.
The concept of a land bridge connecting the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea has been under consideration for several years. Former transport minister Saksayam Chidchob advocated for the project during the Prayut Chan-o-cha government, and the current Cabinet of Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin approved it in principle in October.
The Land Bridge proposal outlines a comprehensive land transport route that includes a six-lane motorway, a double-track railway, and pipelines for oil and natural gas transportation. Two deep-sea ports, capable of handling 20 million cargo containers each, are planned for Ranong province on the Andaman Sea coast and Chumphon province on the Gulf of Thailand coast. International bidding is expected next year, with the bridge potentially opening for services in 2030, according to the Transport Ministry’s Office of Transport and Traffic Policy and Planning (OTP).
Despite the government’s optimism, concerns have been raised by experts regarding the assumed benefits of the Land Bridge project. Assoc Prof Dr Sompong Sirisoponsilp at Chulalongkorn University questions key assumptions about time and cost savings, emphasizing the need for a more focused and environmentally conscious approach. The feasibility study sponsored by Chulalongkorn University and the Office of the National Economic and Social Development Council (NESDB) ranks the Land Bridge project as the third-best option, with concerns raised about its economic and financial viability.
NGOs, academics, and industry representatives express worries about potential pollution, industrial accidents, and the overall impact on local communities. As the government pushes forward with its vision, critics, including Prof Dr Praipol Koomsup, former dean of Thammasat University’s Faculty of Economics, challenge the government’s claims, urging a more thorough examination of project details before international promotion efforts.
As the Land Bridge megaproject undergoes feasibility studies and environmental assessments, the balance between economic development and environmental sustainability remains at the forefront of public discourse. The coming months are crucial as the government navigates through the challenges and concerns surrounding this ambitious infrastructure initiative.