Bangkok gets its first city-airport rail-link
Thursday 26, August 2010
Visitors to Bangkok can now avail of a smooth and convenient transfer from Suvarnabhumi airport to various locations in the city centre following the official opening of the rail-link.
The rail-link will be a blessing for independent travellers, from business travellers to backpackers, seeking to avoid the taxis and touts at Bangkok airport. In addition to helping decentralise and decongest Bangkok towards the suburbs, it will also help the capital join the league of regional cities such as Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong which have city-airport mass transit links.
HotHotels in the vicinity of the rail-link stations and terminals at Phya Thai, Rajprarob and Makkasan areas will gain a significant competitive advantage, especially in the Rajdamri area as well as those along Phetchaburi, Asoke and Rajdaphisek roads. Hotels located close to the city's mass transit systems, the BTS Skytrain and the Metro Underground, will also get a lift.
Providing easy access right under the Suvarnabhumi airport terminal, the rail-link is smooth and efficient. The rail-cars are spacious with plenty of place for luggage. Visitors will also enjoy panoramic views of Bangkok, including greenery, housing estates, temples, mosques, malls and the office towers of the inner city.
The Airport Link consists of two lines along the 28-kilometre route: 1) The City Line which stops at all eight stations, and covers the distance in 30 minutes. It will operate 24 hours. 2) Express Line which runs non-stop from the city-centre terminal to Suvarnabhumi International Airport at a speed of 160 kilometers per hour, covering the route in 15 minutes. It will from 6a.m. – midnight. Both can accommodate up to 150,000 people a day.
As a special promotion until the end of the year, passengers are being offered discount fares. Passengers on the City Line will pay only 15 Baht flat rate, while those on the Express Line will pay 100 Baht. After January 1, 2011, the fares for the City Line will be between 15 and 45 Baht, depending on the station passengers get on/off, and 150 Baht for the Express Line. For frequent travellers, the Rail Link also has a prepaid pass system with a stored value of up to 1,000 baht.
The State Railways of Thailand, which owns and operates the system, has ensured that it includes complete facilities for the physically-challenged, including proper car parks, spacious wheelchair access, elevators equipped with buttons in Braille buttons and voice announcements. There is also as area allocated especially for the disabled within the passenger car. Toilets, ticket distribution channels and access gates have also been designed accordingly, and in line with international standards.
However, at least three problems are temporarily impeding what would otherwise have been a seamless flow of passengers between the rail-link, the BTS SkyTrain and the Metro Underground as they commute from the airport to various tourism-related destinations, and vice versa.
The BTS SkyTrain / Rail-link interchange at Phya Thai: There is no escalator to go down from the BTS Phya Thai station to the level of the connecting walkway to the rail-link station. The existing escalator is only for going up. To go down, the steps have to be used, which may be a problem for those carrying heavy luggage. There are no luggage trolleys at the station either. Moreover, a small part of the walkway from the SkyTrain station to the rail-link station is still under construction.
The MRT / Rail-link connection at Makkasan: This should have been possible from the Makkasan terminal to the Phetchaburi MRT station, but does not exist. An MRT executive said a "project" to establish a walkway is awaiting approval. As and when that is forthcoming, work can be finished in three months. Hence, those getting off at the Makkasan rail-link terminal cannot access the Phetchaburi MRT station.
Lack of a single commuter ticket: The biggest obstacle will be the lack of a common ticket between the airport rail-link, the SkyTrain and the MRT. Arriving visitors heading for say, the Hua Lumphong rail terminal, will have to first buy the rail-link ticket, then a SkyTrain ticket and then again a Metro ticket separately at each interchange.
Mr Surapong Laoha-Unya, Director and Chief Operating Officer of the BTS SkyTrain, acknowledged that this has long been an issue, for both technical and administrative reasons. Not only are the ticketing technologies entirely different, but one company is under private control while the other is a quasi-public sector organisation, which means two entirely different mindsets, procedures and systems.
Mr Surapong noted that a common ticket between the SkyTrain and the MRT has been in the works for about three to four years. Now that the airport rail-link is due to open, it has taken a new sense of urgency and is expected to be in place some time next year.
Once these issues are sorted out, however, the benefits for Bangkok's tourism industry will be phenomenal. Mr Surapong said the BTS, which opened in 1999, is well aware of the tourism advantage and projects clear increases in ridership after the rail-link opens.
He noted that visitors have benefitted from thousands of discounted BTS passes sold to the tourism sector between 2002 to July 2010, including 342,152 sold to hotels along the SkyTrain routes, 568,968 to tour operators and 93,025 passes to the Tourism Authority of Thailand and the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau. In 2009 alone, sales to tour operator totalled 81,244 passes, hotels 45,415 passes and TAT and TCEB 18,000 passes.
Mr Surapong said that the rail-link would also help boost sales of the SkyTrain's one-day pass which costs only 120 Baht and can be used for unlimited number of trips to tourist spots along the SkyTrain routes. "Visitors with little time to spare don't like sitting in traffic," he said. "The rail-link will help all the mass-transit systems boost sales, especially to the growing numbers of visitors from new markets such as India."
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