TRANSPORTATION AND TELECOMMUNICATIONS
Overview: Where topography allows it, Thailand has an extensive network of roads and railroads. Rapid transit is burgeoning in an otherwise gridlocked Bangkok. Tourism and improved economic development led Bangkok to become a major regional air hub. New technology development has brought some improvements to the nation’s telecommunications network.
Roads: Estimates vary on the length of roads in Thailand. According to a U.S. government estimate in 2000, Thailand had 57,403 kilometers of roads, of which 56,542 kilometers were paved and 861 kilometers, unpaved. Other sources indicate a lower total of fewer than 45,000 kilometers. Streets in Bangkok are frequently gridlocked, with an overabundance of motor vehicles flowing into the central city via expressways.
Railroads: Railroads are operated under the auspices of the State Railway of Thailand. In 2003 the system totaled an estimated 4,071 kilometers of narrow-gauge (1.000-meter gauge) track. The system currently has some 270 diesel locomotives and nearly 250 diesel railcars or multiple-unit cars. According to figures provided for 2002, 55.7 million passenger journeys occurred, and the rail system hauled 9.9 million tons of freight. Freight traffic is considered an important part of Thailand’s domestic container transport to and from seaport and inland terminals.
Rapid Transit: The Mass Rapid Transit Authority of Thailand operates a full metro service on a 21-kilometer-long, 18-station line that opened in Bangkok in July 2004. The inaugural line will be extended in phases totaling 27 kilometers, and two future lines, totaling 67 kilometers, are planned.
Ports: Thailand’s ports in order of size are Bangkok, Laem Chabang, Pattani, Phuket, Sattahip, Si Racha, and Songkhla. The Thai merchant fleet comprises 386 ships of 1,000 gross registered tons or more, including 142 cargo carriers, 89 petroleum tankers, 57 bulk carriers, 30 refrigerated cargo ships, 25 liquefied gas ships, 21 container ships, 12 chemical tankers, 4 passenger/cargo ships, 3 passenger ships, 1 combination ore/oil ship, 1 roll on/roll off ship, and 1 specialized tanker.
Inland and Coastal Waterways: Thailand has some 4,000 kilometers of navigable inland waterways, of which 93 percent are navigable by boats with drafts up to 0.9 meters. Thailand’s long coastlines lend themselves to intercoastal trade.
Civil Aviation and Airports: In 2004 Thailand had an estimated 109 airports and three heliports. Sixty-five of the airports had paved runways, including seven of more than 3,047 meters in length. Bangkok International Airport at Don Muang, 24 kilometers north of the capital, is an important regional hub for pass-through flights and as a destination. About 80 airlines provide service to the Bangkok International Airport and carry a reported 25 million passengers and 700,000 tons of cargo a year. Ground was broken for a new Bangkok international airport at Suwannabhumi, 30 kilometers east of Bangkok, in January 2002, with a new projected opening in 2006. When Suwannabhumi opens, Don Muang will be used for domestic flights only. Other major airports are at Chiangmai, Hat Yai, and Pattani. There are two Thai flag carriers. Thai Airways International, founded in 1960, offers domestic and worldwide coverage with a fleet of 81 passenger and cargo aircraft. Since 1977, Thai Airways has been fully owned by the Thai government. Bangkok Airways is a privately owned company founded in 1968 as an air taxi company; since 1986, it has served primarily as a domestic carrier. It also flies to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and offers charter flights to Burma; it has a fleet of 11 aircraft.
Pipelines: In 2004 Thailand had 3,112 kilometers of gas pipelines and 265 kilometers of refined products pipelines.
Telecommunications: In October 2002, the Thai government formed a new Ministry of Information and Communications to oversee all aspects of telecommunications. The ministry is responsible for liberalizing the provision of telecommunications services under World Trade Organization guidelines by 2006. However, the proposed privatization of the state-owned Telephone Organization of Thailand and Communications Authority of Thailand remains controversial. The ministry also will be responsible for implementing the country’s information technology policy, called IT 2010, which is designed to strengthen Thailand’s telecommunications infrastructure as a means of promoting overall economic development.
Thailand’s telecommunications network suffers from delays and other shortfalls in the provision of telephone services as a result of inadequate investment. The quality and availability of telephone service are much better in Bangkok and other cities than in rural areas. Mobile telephones (26.5 million in 2005) are much more prevalent than landline phones (6.6 million in 2003). As of November 2004, Thailand had almost 7 million Internet users, representing less than 11 percent of the population, and 18 commercial Internet service providers.
The government owns most television and radio stations and plays an important role in determining programming content. The government’s Public Relations Department requires that all Thai radio stations carry 30 minutes of official news prepared by Radio Thailand, the national radio network, twice daily. Radio Thailand has seven networks that specialize in such areas as news and information, public affairs, social issues, education, and foreign-language broadcasts. Thailand has five television channels, of which two are run by the central government, two by the army, and one by a private enterprise. Altogether, Thailand has 204 AM radio stations, 334 FM radio stations, 6 shortwave stations, and 5 television broadcast stations. Additionally, there are more than 2,000 community radio stations, some of which are being investigated by the Public Relations Department for violating the requirement that they limit their transmission range to 15 kilometers. Thailand has about 14 million radios and 15 million television sets.