Thailand from the train

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Gauge, meter or standard, it’s no question

A talk about gauge but not only that, the distance between two rails measured from the inside of the head. On the picture a proofed device to overcome transhipment in other wagons and transporting standard gauge (1435 mm) goods wagons on a meter gauge (1000 mm) track.
The Southeast Asian (old) railway network is build on meter gauge – Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam, Malaysia and the isolated rails of North Borneo. Thailand started with standard done by German engineers hired by a farsighted monarch in order to avoid any conflict with Western forces (British and French) colonizing the neighbouring countries. However, while Thailand declared war on Germany in 1917 the railway workers couldn’t precede with there job and were send home.
The British took over and they decided meter would be the standard and thus regauging what already happily ran on 1435 mm. A waist of money, time, labour and rolling stock, not all steam locomotives and wagons could be adjusted. By all means a task that took ten years to complete.
For a very long time it ran without anyone thinking this must be changed. After the subway (Skytrain) and new airport line in Bangkok were build both on standard gauge and electrified, the High-speed train discussion – the Chinese taking lead – triggered the idea of regauging again. It’s a fruitless discussion and beyond the reality of any intelligent thinker unless a country is capable to carry the financial burden without any complaint. In my opinion Thailand by far has such a position and seen from the political side hypocrite, after all they came up with the idea instead of thinking what went wrong in all those years?
Nothing went wrong at least at the railways itself, what really wide of the mark is a lack on interest or not being farsighted enough by politicians, obviously they had other interests to obey, an attitude of let the iron way run till it falls apart. A lack of an appropriate investment, if this was done time on time a meter gauge network would be completely update and no one would doubt the gauge or more precisely; it wouldn’t be any hinder for a swift transportation.
Japan still is the best example beside the famous Shinkansen (新幹線) – a high-speed network on standard gauge – the rest remained on cape gauge (1067 mm) and functions well even with certain speed limits.
It’s the ultimate luxury of dreaming going fast and faster despite the cost. It’s a way of being spoilt, for the sake of joy what’s so nice on fast but nothing else to see?  All what matters is the arrival; a minute more or less on a lifetime should not be the question, that’s madness, the one dictated by an unpredictable economy with certain priorities, mostly personal interest.  It’s all between two ears depending on the gauge and not derailing. One must face the reality; by doing nothing or nothing enough at least, a once lovely system became deteriorate in the sense of techniques and more and more a museum of the past. Nothing wrong with it if mend for but that’s not the case, certainly not in Thailand. Even the right man on the helm can’t fix this overnight; it’ll take years like the railway network in and around Bangkok – the capital – slowly got shape. Why there and not elsewhere?
Because there’s no other choice, if water reaches men’s ankles – in Bangkok no exemption – he’s still able to live with it. However, if it reaches his lips more drastic measurements must be taken to avoid drowning. In terms of traffic Krung Thep (Thai name for Bangkok) drowned already and it is to be expected that the new trains come too late. 
Bangkok in the first place was build on the wrong place but nobody can be blamed for this, nobody can bear the responsibility, it’s a huge amount and power that slowly will sink till only the upper part of high-rise as a remarkable beacon remains on something that couldn’t reverse the order. Another lifetime maybe or sooner than every one expected, climate change could trigger situations nobody wants. By far it’s no reason to stop the race in the capital and lying electrified rail on standard gauge (1435 mm) by the kilometre for some relieve or someone own’s benefit, the other side of a shining medal and in a certain sense a real mad man’s race. Again what’s needed is a man with foresight and capable to overcome today’s hinder. Starting from scrap is no option neither to re-gauge what ran for years successfully. The SRT they way it’s able to function today can be called a heritage railway and on it self nothing wrong with it, on the contrary; worth to be conserved. It only asks for a different attitude, another mentality, but above all the ability to make a choice and within that limit doing what have to be done…! For years to come there’ll be enough passengers to ratify this.

Taming the beast or taking its measure

Taming the beast or taking its measure

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About Robert von Hirschhorn

Author / Performer or in Dutch: schrijver / dichter
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