China has agreed to pass on some of its know-how to Thailand so that the Southeast Asian nation can develop its own high-speed railway network, according to Chinese engineers involved in the negotiations.
“As cooperation on the China-Thailand High-Speed Railway project deepens, Thailand’s desire to design and construct high-speed railways on its own has gradually become stronger. They hope to play a greater role in future cooperation,” the team led by Gao Rui wrote in Chinese journal Railway Standard Design last month.
“In response to Thailand’s repeated requests for technology transfer and teaching on China’s high-speed rail technology at joint committee meetings, China has agreed to pass on the technology to Thailand under the premise of not violating Chinese laws,” said Gao, a senior engineer with state-owned China Railway International Group and a member of its overseas engineering management and technical negotiations team.
Under Chinese law, companies and individuals must obtain government approval to export technologies that are deemed critical to national security or the country’s economic interests.
China has the world’s largest high-speed rail network, which was built in just 15 years. The network spans more than 40,000km (about 24,800 miles) – or long enough to circle the Earth. The country’s engineering experience, knowledge and technology could be useful to others wanting to build similar infrastructure rapidly and at a relatively low cost.
For example, China has developed modular designs for railway stations and other infrastructure components that can be quickly assembled on site. New materials for railway tracks that can help reduce maintenance costs over the long term – such as high-strength steel and concrete ties – have also been developed.
Gao’s team said China had “agreed in principle to conditionally transfer or pass on technology, skills and knowledge in 11 areas” of high-speed railway construction to Thailand.
Technology transfers between organisations or countries can involve transferring patents, licences or other intellectual property rights, according to a railway scientist in Beijing who is not part of the negotiations and requested anonymity.
Information and expertise is typically shared through training programmes, workshops and other activities. And while such transfers are usually done for a fee or other compensation, the scientist noted that “it can be free”.
According to Gao’s team, China could provide Thailand with information on materials used in constructing the railway tracks and the best practices for laying tracks in different terrain.
Other expertise that could be passed on includes designing railway stations for improved passenger flow, building bridges over rivers or other bodies of water at a faster speed and lower cost, preparing the ground under railway tracks to make it stable and secure, and how to design and build safe tunnels.
In the paper, Gao’s team said other important tips to improve construction quality and speed would also be shared – from land surveys and managing nearby water resources to tunnel lighting and the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems in stations and other facilities.
The China-Thailand railway project will extend 873km – from Kunming in southwest China to Bangkok in Thailand – with trains travelling at speeds of up to 250km/h.
It is an important part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative as it will be a key link in the “southern corridor” connecting China with Southeast Asia. It will pass through Thai cities including Chiang Mai and Nakhon Ratchasima and will connect with other transport networks in the region such as the Laos-China Railway and the Malaysia-Singapore High-Speed Rail.
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