Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
Bangkok Post
Bangkok Post

Crossing into despair

Early this month, there was a short news report about the death of a railway staffer in Muang district of Udon Thani province. Local news rarely gathers much mainstream media attention, but this shed light on safety issues related to the infrastructure of the railway system.

On the morning of 18 June, the 58-year-old State Railway of Thailand (SRT) employee was found dead inside a small booth at the Nong Dair railway crossing -- with a bottle of blood-pressure medicine beside his bunk.

Sutheetham (last name withheld) had been working there for decades. His main duty was to guard the crossing when trains arrived. A friend of his told reporters he had been complaining of overwork and poor health.

According to the SRT, there were 437 major accidents at train crossings from 2015-2020, resulting in 163 fatalities and 401 injuries.

The night before Sutheetham's body was found, another major accident could have occurred if any of the train drivers had not been able to contact one of Sutheetham's colleagues to man the crossing in time.

Such a huge risk makes one wonder why the SRT did not know about his health problem or find a replacement to cover his shift.

SRT statistics show there are more than 87 accidents at train crossings every year on average -- or at least seven per month, or around two a week at any of the 2,975 crossings on the country's railroads.

Of those, 1,358 crossings are equipped with safety systems such as electronic warning signs or manual rail guards operated by SRT staff like Sutheetham. The other 600-plus are illegal crossings that locals use and where most of the accidents occur.

The latest one took place on June 22 when a pickup truck hit a cargo train at a local crossing in Saraburi province. The driver reportedly told police that he could not see the approaching train because his visibility was blocked by a concrete pile painted in red and white that had been placed as a warning sign. Two of the car's passengers died in the accident, with four others injured.

In 2014, accidents at crossings topped the list of train accidents, accounting for 127 out of 412. Since then, the situation has improved markedly. In 2021, they accounted for 37 out of 245 accidents, or roughly one-eighth. Yet this is not good enough.

A review by the World Economic Forum in 2019 painted a grim but realistic picture of where Thailand is in terms of its train infrastructure.

According to a survey on railroad infrastructure in 144 countries, Thailand ranked 75th. Respondents were asked to rate the railroads in their country on a scale from 1 (underdeveloped) to 7 (extensive and efficient by international standards).

Thailand, which started developing its railway system about 130 years ago, got a score of 2.8 points. Japan topped the list with 6.8, followed by Hong Kong (6.5), Switzerland (6.4), South Korea (5.9) and Singapore (5.8).

In past years, Thai governments have invested a fortune in building high-speed trains and pouring billions of baht into building the Bang Sue Grand Central, using Tokyo Station as its main inspiration.

But the reality on the ground and the slew of recent accidents prove Thailand's railway infrastructure is heading in a different direction. To better serve the public, the next government and policymakers need to allocate more resources to upgrade the infrastructure and safety of our railways, especially in rural areas, rather than focusing on fancy projects in Bangkok.

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.