BLNI Extra 48 January 2019 – Thailand
[E1] Thailand – Not to Nam Tok
A report of a failed attempt to reach Nam Tok Sai Yok Noi on the State of Thailand Railways (SRT)
weekend excursion from Bangkok Hua Lamphong may pre-warn others.
Nam Tok is the still operational branch of the WW2 Death Railway in Thailand, and the weekend
only tourist train is currently the best way to travel there for four reasons. Firstly it is crucially the
only service scheduled to travel 2km onwards from Nam Tok to Nam Tok Sai Yok Noi (to notionally
allow a visit to a nearby waterfall), secondly, as opposed to the service trains it stops for
photographs at the (not) Bridge over the River Kwai, (it isn't the infamous bridge as when built it
was over a tributary of the Kwai, but the Thai's cunningly swapped the river names so can now
genuinely advertise that the train crosses it.....), thirdly the current SRT branch service is two daily
pairs to Nam Tok, but only one allows a day return from Bangkok, and then with just 20 minutes at
Nam Tok, (the other pair runs to and from the "main line" junction with no connections from or to
Bangkok), and fourthly it is suspected but not confirmed that the 12:55 return will be formed by the
stock of the earlier arrival from the Junction and not the 12:35 from Bangkok, and punctuality is not
SRT's strong point...
An alternative to the tight turnaround is to stay at Kanchanaburi but on the service train you would
still miss the last 2km.
Bangkok Hua Lamphong platform departure board of DMU Excursion
It was known that bookings for the weekend special opened 90 days ahead, but you cannot book on
line as only personal applications are accepted. Flying into Thailand early on a Friday, the first task
after dropping off luggage was to head for the departure station of Bangkok Hua Lamphong where it
was noted that the "Booking Office for Foreigners" is still closed. A notice says this is for
refurbishment but apparently that was the situation last February as well. Another notice redirected
customers to high numbered ticket office windows located separately from the lengthy queues at
the lower ones. On enquiring a reply was received in good English, and a computer screen shown
which confirmed that both Saturday and Sunday trains were fully booked.
The very helpful Fahrplancenter travel guide for Thailand Railways
(http://www.fahrplancenter.com/Kursbuchlinks.html) advised that there were other regular
excursions, and further enquiry ascertained that places were available on the train to Hua Hin and
Suan Soan Pradipat (for nearby beaches). The penny immediately dropped that this was shown in
the Fahrplancenter timetable with the same Bangkok departure time and must therefore be part of
the Nam Tok excursion trains as far at the shopping and prayer stop at Nakonpathom. So a return
ticket to Hua Hin was purchased for 120 Baht (around 3 pounds) for the Saturday and our cunning
member hatched a plan to go to Nakonpathom and ask there if there were any no-shows so he
could swap portions. Unfortunately like all of Baldrick's ideas it didn't work, as even on arriving at
Hua Lamphong Station in time for the joint 06:30 departure, the Nam Tok part was a separate loco
and coaches train.... immediately scuppering doing the last 2km to Nam Tok Sai Yok Noi as it has no
run round loop, plus the track is quoted in on-line reports as unsuitable for heavy locos. How you
find out about any DMU substitution is not known, but on this occasion it may have been related to
what looked like additional wine and dine coaches for a large party, but the Suan Soan Pradipat
train was the expected DMUs and also shown as departing at 06:30, but from a different platform....
This DMU left first, with a British built 158 DMU clone arriving alongside as it departed.
On arrival at Nakonpathom, the arrival of the Nam Tok train was keenly awaited as the decision was
still to go to Nam Tok if at all possible, even if not Nam Tok Sai Yok Noi as our member had no idea if
or even when he would visit Thailand again. On arriving about 20 minutes later the train pulled up
on the same track immediately behind the DMU but despite asking for a spare Nam Tok place at the
booking office (in case spaces were allocated at each stop) plus no less than five train crew or
obvious group party leaders, all said none were available.
Hua Hin DMU and Nam Tok loco hauled Excursion trains at Nakhonpathom
So, reluctantly regaining his place on the DMU, an enjoyable journey and time was spent in Hua Hin
including a paddle in the South China Sea before ditching the return half of the excursion and
splashing out (sorry.......) 42 Baht (one pound) for a 3rd class single back to Bangkok on an earlier
train. The logic in doing this was that it gained extra track as its destination was the Bangkok
terminus at Thonburi on the west side of the Chao Phraya River.
Hua Hin is located on the line from Malaysia and was all CWR with the diesel loco working hard on
the metre gauge track between its frequent stops, but this all changed from Taing Chan Junction in
the western suburbs of Bangkok as it then crawled on poor track for the approximately 8km to
Thonburi with both shanty housing and numerous home industries literally at track side for most of
the branch. Thonburi station is actually awkward to get to (see below) and only used by a maximum
of 10 pairs a day in the current timetable. Your correspondent speculates at the very least it may
lose all of its main line services when the most spectacular of station redevelopments completes
elsewhere in Bangkok in a couple of years.
The HS2 London Euston proposal seems small fry in comparison, as a monstrous structure is being
built on the east side of the current Bang Sue Junction station in the northern suburbs of Bangkok
with a Railway Gazette International article saying it is due to open in late 2020 when
arrival/departures to the north, southwest and west of Bangkok will be relocated there from Hua
The new Bang Sue Terminal station under construction
The fact Bang Sue is 8km north of Hua Lamphong does not appear to be an issue - it is already
served by one indirect Metro Line, and two more yet to be completed will do so before or with its
opening. The building will be a four-storey structure covering 300,000m2, a basement with parking
for 1,700 cars, ground floor for tickets and retail, first floor with 12 main line metre gauge platforms,
and the top floor a further 12 platforms for the new Metro lines plus the proposed 1435 mm ‘three
airports’ link between U-Tapao in Rayong province, Don Muang airport to the north and via Bang
Sue to link in with the existing line serving the city centre and Suvarnabhumi international airport.
As all rail will be above ground substantial viaducts are required, and these are partially completed
at either end of the building so it is clear the SRT lines will involve a grade separated alignment on
each track of the "southern" and "northern" lines. The viaducts stretch for miles in either direction.
The construction dwarves the existing Bang Sue Junction station and tracks, with the previous
freight yards and carriage sidings (but not the diesel depot) already relocated and in use on the east
side of the new structure.
Postscript: Attempting to get back to Central Bangkok from Thonburi, a walk to the nearby ferry
terminal found all river services cancelled due to a festival. An attempt to walk into Bangkok via
nearby road bridges over first a tributary and then the main river was prevented by the Police due
to an ongoing search by divers but fortunately the Fahrplancenter guide advised that bus route 40
went from near Thonburi to Hua Lamphong, and one arrived fairly soon after our member located
its nearest stop, over 10 minutes walk away from the station. The vehicle was a crash gearbox,
ancient looking midibus built on a lorry chassis with enormous high entrance steps over the engine
and an absolutely deafening racket when moving. Being full and standing when boarding made it
awkward to buy a ticket from the conductor whilst fiddling for money and keeping your balance
(and calling it a ticket is far-fetched, more like a postage stamp), and this never reached secure
storage before being dropped, and off it flew through the centre doors which were of course open
when the bus was on the move. Needless to say an Inspector got on at the next stop and noticing
this your correspondent headed straight for the clippie to buy another ticket to avoid an
international incident..... She waved your correspondent away and shouted to the Inspector above
the engine din something that clearly meant the foreigner had paid his fare but can't produce a
ticket. You couldn't make it up.....
[E2] Thailand - The Bangkok PSUL, eventually
There is just one train a day in one direction, weekdays only, which avoids Bangkok main station
(Hua Lamphong) by an avoiding line. Train 376 to Hua Takhe departs Rangsit at 05:35, but
fortunately can be caught two stops before the curve (explained why below) at a more reasonable
06:34 from Samsen. Samsen is not on the Bangkok Metro although the further out station at Bang
Sue Junction is, but perhaps surprisingly for such a huge conurbation that Metro Line does not start
running until 06:00 all days of the week, so the first northbound arrives too late.
There is an outbound train from Hua Lamphong at 05:45 getting to Samsen at 05:59 which was
considered too early, so with information on the city's fragmented bus services difficult to obtain in
English, the chosen option was a taxi. Samsen station by Google was 6.4km from the Hotel, but even
after adding 15 extra minutes to the hotel receptions estimate the first attempt failed as if you are
held at Bangkok traffic lights they take ages to cycle and most were against on that morning. Of
course trying again the next day and adding 30 minutes instead of 15, the journey took just nine
minutes with green lights all the way....
So on day 2 after buying a ticket to Asoke, (8km away costing 2 Baht, approx 5p) and four stops
beyond the curve to reduce the waiting time to travel back to Hua Lamphong, the curve junction
was noted through the front of the Japanese built DMU as starting from the Bangkok end of
Ramathibodi Hospital station loop, so for complete overlap this train is correctly listed in The World
Beyond Europe (see the BLS website and PSUL) as the 06:34 departure from Samsen. Of note is that
the curve does not physically link in at its east end until Ratchaprarop station which is approximately
2kms after the tracks of each side of the curve come parallel with each other at Uropong, an
unusual station with unconnected platforms on the eastern and northern lines.
The journey back to Bangkok Hua Lamphong had more track interest than expected as on reaching
the south junction of the avoiding curve triangle, the inbound 07:08 from Asoke did not cross to join
the double track main line that runs on the west side of the substantial carriage sidings. Instead it
stayed on a third track which deviated from the main line to stay on the far east side of all sidings,
only crossing back on the final station approach to arrive into platform 5, as high a numbered
platform as could be reached from that approach route. A rake of coaches were being shunted
blocking the inbound main, so whether this forced an unusual diversion is not known.
[E3] Thailand – A train trip through Maeklong Market
Any pre-trip internet searches on rail travel in Thailand will find mention of, or YouTube clips of, the
railway market at Maeklong where stalls which completely cover the rails are pulled back at the last
moment to allow trains to pass. That might not happen any more..... an explanation follows.
First a guide on how to get to Maeklong, perfectly feasible as a day trip from Bangkok although far
from straightforward. First catch the BTS Skytrain towards Bang Wa as far as Wongwian Yai, from
where it is a 10-15 minute walk to an isolated SRT branch with its terminal station of the same
name. Look for the station sign adjacent to a footbridge near to a road junction opposite a market.
The single track SRT station is set back about 50 metres at right angles.
Ban Laem station, the start point of the isolated branch to Maeklong
This line runs to Mahachai, journey time variable but taking around an hour. Proceed out of the
station past the booking office to the main road, turn right and after about 200 metres turn left to a
pier and catch a frequent ferry (costs 3 Baht) across the river to Ban Laem. Whilst crossing look right
to see a large gold Buddah statue appearing above houses in the middle distance and the ongoing
train journey station (also named Ban Laem) is just past that. If needed there are A4 framed maps in
English posted at both stations.
Timing to get to this second SRT train journey is more crucial as this also isolated branch only runs
four times daily, on 5 November 2018 at 07:30, 10:10, 13:30 and 16:40 from Ben Laem. This line has
no depot and just 2 x two car DMU's which on the day of the visit ran as a pair, although custom
didn't justify this. So if they fail, no train. The journey to Maeklong takes exactly an hour and one
stop away our correspondent positioned himself in the front car, with Google Translate on his
mobile phone helping to gain approval to stand right at the front by the third window between the
driver and guards compartments. With keen anticipation a level crossing and then the curve before
the market was approached to find a clear track ahead; what was going on?
Getting closer it could be seen that all stall coverings and produce racks had already been pulled
back, and the limited space between them and the rails was filled by HUNDREDS AND HUNDREDS of
camera wielding tourists....... Therefore progress was very slow through this mass of people, but still
an on time arrival at Maeklong.
No stalls being moved today, too many tourists.
After the train has gone by encroachment on (and over) the tracks commences
Our member was very disappointed at not getting the hoped for opening shots and had to be
content to walk back through the market where the tracks were now mostly covered by stalls. He
got some unusual photos of shiny rails in-between trading stalls, and was soon aware that the
tourist hordes were rapidly departing. So the same position but now at the rear of the train was
taken for the departure one hour later. Current timings from Maeklong are 06:20, 09:00, 11:30 and
15:30. This time, with few people photographing the train the stallholders could be photographed
occupying the tracks as soon as the train had passed, providing the hoped for shots.
Fares on both SRT lines were identical at 10 Baht single (approx 25p each, no through or return
tickets available), so each single journey on BTS in Bangkok cost more than the total spent for
an hours’ worth of travel on SRT. Actual details of the journey taken were the 10:40 SRT from
Wongwian Yai (as the following service relies on a punctual arrival and a ferry immediately after
arrival at Mahachai) for the 13:30 from Ban Laem, returning from Maeklong on the 15:30, reaching
Wongwian Yai by 18:25 and central Bangkok by 20:00.
[E4] Thailand - Bangkok "Metro" travels including recent opening
There is no integrated ticketing between the standard gauge Bangkok Airport line, BTS Skytrain or
MRT Metro, and with effect from 1 November 2018 the system has become even more
So, on arrival at the airport you now only have the option of buying a chargeable token for a single
journey or a smart card for multiple trips on this line, the latter being of limited use to most visitors.
A change onto MRT was necessary to reach your reporters hotel, and they no longer issue day
tickets despite what was suggested on-line. Apart from singles you can only buy a smart card for 180
Baht (approx £4.50) of which 80 is a deposit and card fee plus 100 Baht's worth of travel. This can be
topped up in units of 100, so is of merit only if doing a lot of travelling as you avoid ticket office
queues. BTS Skytrain still have a day pass for 140 Baht, so as the end to end fare of one line is 52
Baht that is worthwhile for a day’s travel even as a tourist.
As for the network itself, the airport link is currently 28km with just seven stops, so a quick way in or
out of the city notwithstanding that the non-stop express journeys have not run for a few years due
to lack of rolling stock. 99% is built on viaduct and for a large proportion of its length is directly
above (or alongside at a higher level) the SRT metre gauge Eastern line. It is currently operated (in
UK parlance) by a version of the Siemens 360 EMUs and there will be more as the line is due for
extending at both ends, 700m to a new airport terminal still under construction, and beyond the
current end of line (actually ends in mid-air with just buffers stopping trains hurtling to oblivion) at
Phaya Thai to the incredible pending Bang Sue interchange and onwards to Bangkok's other two
A view of the (now open) Bangkok BTS Skyline extension south from Samrong
BTS Skytrain perfectly fits in with the impression that Central Bangkok is London’s Canary Wharf on
steroids. It is totally on viaduct even in the outer suburbs (above roads where possible), in many
places winding between or around huge blocks of offices or housing. Currently it has two lines, the
23km long Sukhumvit from Mo Chit to Samrong and the 11.5km Silom from National Stadium to
Bang Wa. The former has been extended since your writer returned to the UK, with a 12.8km
southern section from Samrong to Kheha Samut Prahan opening on Thursday 6 December 2018.
Travel on the eight station extension will be free-of-charge until 16 April 2019, when the initial
section of the 18.4km Mo Chit – Khu Kot extension is due to open.
As usual in this part of the world what seems like an odd date was specifically chosen to coincide
with the anniversary of a historic Kings birthday.
MRT also has two lines at present, from Hua Lamphong via the east end of the city and Bang Sue is
all in tunnel to just before the current terminus at Tao Poon (21km), the other a suburban line all on
viaduct from Tao Poon high level to Khlong Bang Phai (23km). Travel above ground makes you
appreciate the urban sprawl that is Bangkok, so it is no surprise that the UrbanRail.net map shows
no less than seven extensions or completely new lines under construction and many seem far
advanced from observations made whilst travelling around the network. Maps seen when travelling
suggest the next to open will be BTS north from Mo Chit one stop to Ladphrao Intersection in 2019
and a lengthy extension onwards with 15 stations to Khu Khot in 2020.
In four places, the existing double track lines are described in Thai railway sources as “vertically
stacked”, i.e. with platforms built on top of each other. One is above ground on multiple viaducts at
Siam which is the junction of both BTS Skytrain routes, so complicated concrete structures are
needed as the tracks fly over each other on station approaches to reach same direction cross
platform interchanges between the two lines. Three are underground at stations on the MRT Hua
Lamphong line at Sam Yan, Silom and Lumphini. The central Bangkok lines seem constantly busy,
but being of relatively new construction have platform doors (think Jubilee Line style) at most
stations and passengers rigidly obey the painted lines on the platform so speedy exit and boarding is
guaranteed. At all termini there is a procedure (not previously seen by our member) where no-one
is allowed on the train for its return journey until a security guard has checked all carriages whilst
another on the platform stands with a raised arm to stop boarding. Time is then given for the driver
to change ends, and only then is a whistle blown, the arm drops and passengers are allowed to
board. Most stations also have manned airport style security hoops which you are guided through
and seem totally pointless as most people set them off including your correspondent, but no-one
was ever seen being stopped and searched.