Thailand from the train

‘In the wake of bygone days’

Nostalgia is the only word that describes the Thai Railways in her character at the best but before they are subject to another thought about their business first of all – ore seen in the light of these series after all – the personal story how the hobby begun. The marvellous world of rail, as a toddler I was already dedicated to it playing with a wooden train that run without rails over the carpet. Later the famous wind up mechanism toy trains with silver colour rail underneath were the motive to sharpen any imagination.
Still being young but old enough to go to the station on a Sunday’s afternoon and lingering with the last representatives of the steam age short before their curtain would fall. In the Netherlands at the end of the fifties the steam traction was abandoned and most of the survivors met the merciless man with the hammer.
A lonely kid waits behind the barriers of a level crossing and likes to know where the trains are going. Curiosity only or destination in the way this it must be.
Trains, Trams, Busses and all other modes and means of Public Transportation (PT) became a stronghold of a certain interest emphasized the things rolling on rail. The age of consciousness gave it another dimension, collecting facts and figures, the bones of any enterprise, pictures and other paraphernalia. Whatever one likes and how to enjoy you name it and it’s there, an individual way, philosophy for years to come and thinking about.
And now any youth definitely reached another age there’s a splendid remembrance in between moreover while I started many years ago to make notes of every movement within the realm of Public Transportation. It evolved into a very peculiar document while the memory drops a stitch here and there preconceived the pen didn’t invent rides that never run. A goldmine or absolutely nonsense but in the latter any pastime is.
Five years the Far East is a new home (plus twenty two on part time base) and although the PT interest stretches worldwide the backyard always has a special place. The chased railways in Thailand since the media no longer keep silent about the shortcomings. The State Railway of Thailand is an organization run by the government without a clear vision what a railway should be. Hopefully they put managers on the helm with a notice but the budget is limited.
German railway engineers, contracted by the far-sighted monarch of that time, build the first lines in this country. Political intervention stopped them working and the British took over and completed the network as it more or less is today.
Minor changes, minor upgrades but as a whole the system never evolved into a modern enterprise equipped with the latest techniques. One simply forgot to invest and that’s why in earlier stories I called the Thai Railways a historical activity for the rest without any complaint. On one hand it forms the charm but only for a handful enthusiasts dedicated to old things, worn-out weathered engines, obsolete stock and simply build infrastructure, a ride at the open window, hair fluttering in the wind, and no one knows how it will end but above all where. On the other hand, a daily commuter from the outskirts (or even longer distances) to the inner parts of Bangkok has other wishes. I am talking about the real railway as it was before the Skytrain, MRT and later Airport Express enter the scene in the capital, those systems lead the way.
The latter belongs to the SRT but unfortunate they were not able to do the exploitation, a subsidiary does the job with assistance of the Germans… again! Within the timeframe of history a well done choice. Here occurs one of the problems; the SRT is entangled in all sorts of business presumably conflicting with the core one: running a railway. The latest is the take over of the famous Chatuchak weekend market in Bangkok. The SRT a mighty landlord with a lot of properties, this one was leased to the BMA (Bangkok Metropolitan Administration) but the lease expired and the railways laying hands on the opportunity to reap the benefits themselves and within the best scenario by creating another subsidiary. My advise: stick to the roots it proofed to be difficult enough. The temptation to switch between tracks maybe railroad own but the points were not constructed for business beside the rail other enterprises can do this with al lot more effort.
Railways; but never left the nucleus for what it is till it falls apart. Conserving is another option only in that case put an historian on the wheel who knows how to run a train with odds and ends but meanwhile serving a purpose. With a bit of understanding from the government small investments similar as done in the past. The wish of bringing the network country wide, and not only in and around Bangkok, on today’s standard – and this doesn’t mean that it have to be standard gauge – will be an eternal dream but anyone convincing me of a temporarily existence will also find me on his site. Of course I am favouring the old but if a country wants to come along that’s no demand. In terms of swift transportation; a bullet train ride between Bangkok and Chiang Mai is always preferable above the more than twelve hours needed nowadays without any delays.
I am neither optimistic nor pessimistic and dream on because who’s paying the bill in a country where almost every chairman wants his share before he (ore even she) gives permission. If the putrid habit can’t find a way to heal, projects like these will never get off the ground. A pity for a country that deserves better.

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About Robert von Hirschhorn

Author / Performer or in Dutch: schrijver / dichter
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