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The Bangkok Airport Rail Link: The fastest train in Thailand.

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Over 4 separate trips I visited and documented the new Bangkok to Suvarnabhumi airport rail link. The visits occurred during the limited free trial period in June 2010 and on the 1st day of full service on 23rd august 2010.

A little Background on the Bangkok Airport Rail Link.

The airport rail link is a 28.6km fully elevated high speed metro line linking inner city Bangkok with Suvarnabhumi Airport in the outer eastern suburbs of Bangkok. The line cost over 25 billion Baht to construct. Originally planned to open in 2006 at the same time as the airport. However construction did not commence until July 2005. This was partly due to problems with obtaining the land needed for the line and whether the abandoned Hopewell columns that occupied part of the route should be reused or removed. They were removed in the end and all new structure built.

The airport rail link was built as part of original airport project even though it was a separate contract. Because the line was built mostly alongside SRT's eastern railway part of the land deals required the line be transferred to SRT to operate. It had been stated that it would be far more suitable for an experienced operator such as the BTS or Bangkok metro to run the line.

The airport rail link is operated by SRTET which is a department of SRT rail the main government owned commuter and long distance railway operator. This is SRT's 1st electric railway since the Mahachai line was converted from partial electric operation to diesel rail car operation in 1959. It has been said that SRT does not have the experience or knowledge to operate such a modern electric railway. This could go someway to explain some of the ongoing issues with maintenance on the airport rail link.

Since the full service commenced on 23rd August 2010 the airport rail link has been plagued with reliability and maintenance issues. Despite months of trial runs prior to the full service there have been issues with signals and points, overhead power supplies and an unusually high consumption of spare parts on trains leading to service reductions on the express line due to trains being out of service waiting on spare parts from Germany. Originally the part supplies were meant to last 10 years but were all used up in under 6 months of the full service commencing.

The trains used on the airport rail link are Siemens Desiro Class 360/2. Both the City Line and Express Line use this train type. However the City Line is in a 3 car consist with a standard longitudinal seating layout. The Express Line is in a 4 car consist with higher specification interior and seating plus a luggage car for passengers who checked in their bags for flights at Makkasan. There are 5 City line trains and 4 Express line trains in operation with a total of 9 trains on the line.

Despite these trains being brand new they have already developed issues with airconditioning that appears to be linked to the speed the train travels as it switches off when the train slows down and stops and comes back on when it powers up to running speed again. This does lead to rather stuffy carriages at times and a train carriage temperature that is very inconsistent. This does not occur on the BTS trains that are much older and manufactured by the same company.

The airport rail link operates two very different train services on the same line.
1. A metro service that stops at all 8 stations on the line known as the City Line.
2. An direct fast link to the airport that stops at only 2 stations known as the Express Line.

Out of these 2 different services only the City Line metro service is highly successful with over 40000 passengers per day. For over a year after opening the Express Line carried under 2000 passengers per day. This is due to poor location of the City Air Terminal in Bangkok. It was built on former SRT rail yard land at Makkasan. This area is very congested with traffic and is beyond walking distance of major business and tourist areas.

The airport rail link connects with 3 other Bangkok rail services.
1. The BTS elevated line at Phaya Thai station.
2. The MRT Subway line at Petchburi/Makkasan (City Air Terminal)
3. The SRT Eastern commuter and intercity line at Lat Krabang.

Only the BTS has a direct connection to the airport rail link. However this connection was not built in time for full service in august 2010. Instead it opened a few months later as the concrete bridge linking the stations had not been built.

At Makkasan it is a 500 meter walk through the open air car park to Phetchaburi MRT subway station. This connection is not well sign posted and requires you to walk on the road and cross over a very busy main road without any traffic lights or footbridges. As of October 2012 a safer and more direct link is under construction to link the Makkasan with Phetchaburi station. After this link opens it is hoped it will increase patronage at Makkasan station.

At Lat Krabang station there is a street level connection to the SRT eastern line but this is poorly sign posted and requires passengers to exit to street level and walk about 200 meters to get around a wall that separates the 2 stations.

In the future it is planned that the Airport Rail Link will be extended from Phaya Thai station to the new interchange station at Bang Sue. Now that the former Don Mueang Airport has reopened for low cost carrier flights there is pressure for the line to be extended all the way to Don Mueang Airport. However this will duplicate directly the planned narrow gauge electrified Red Line to Rangsit. It will be many years before any extension to the Airport Rail Link is built.

Ticketing and Fares on the Airport Rail Link:

From the commencement of full services on 23rd August 2010 the fares were flat 15 Baht per trip regardless of distance for the City Line and 100 Baht for same day return on the Express Line. The tickets were preprinted paper tickets used on both the City Line and Express line. This continued until 4th January 2011. This was despite the fact an electronic contactless smart card ticketing system was already installed prior to the line opening.

From the 4th January 2011 until today the fares for the City line range from 15 baht to 45 Baht depending on distance travelled. The Express line is now 90 Baht for a single trip and 150 Baht for a return trip provided it occurs within 14 days. The tickets used today are stored value smart cards and black single trip tokens.

Airport Rail Link Timetable:

Trains operate between 6am and 12am Monday to Sunday.
City Line trains run every 15 minutes.
Express Line trains run every 30 minutes to Phaya Thai.
Express Line trains run every 40 minutes to Makkasan.

During peak hours the City line trains are extremely overcrowded and it is common to have to wait for the next train because its just too full. As a result of this chronic overcrowding an additional 7 four car trains are on order and will be delivered in 2014.
Now onto the photographs:

8. This is a shot of a Siemens Desiro Class 360/2 City line set waiting to depart from Phaya Thai station during the trail period.

[IMG]http://i93.photobucket.com/albums/l74/Thaitransit/Bangkok%20Airport%20Rail%20Link/P1030118a.jpg[/IMG]

32. This is a shot of two Siemens Desiro Class 360/2 City line sets passing each other just outside Ramkhamhaeng station.

[IMG]http://i93.photobucket.com/albums/l74/Thaitransit/Bangkok%20Airport%20Rail%20Link/P1030208a.jpg[/IMG]

67. This is an image of a Siemens Desiro Class 360/2 Express line set. Taken as it approaches Lat Krabang station on an out of service test run towards Makkasan station.

[IMG]http://i93.photobucket.com/albums/l74/Thaitransit/Bangkok%20Airport%20Rail%20Link/P1060089a.jpg[/IMG]

78. This is another shot of a Siemens Desiro Class 360/2 Express line set taken as it powers down the airport rail link towards Phaya Thai.

[IMG]http://i93.photobucket.com/albums/l74/Thaitransit/Bangkok%20Airport%20Rail%20Link/P1060165a.jpg[/IMG]

96. This is an interior shot of the Siemens Desiro Class 360/2 Express line set. Note the nicer seating and carpeted floor on this train.

[IMG]http://i93.photobucket.com/albums/l74/Thaitransit/Bangkok%20Airport%20Rail%20Link/P1060210a.jpg[/IMG]

73. This is a video of a pair of Siemens Desiro Class 360/2 City line sets departing in opposite directions from Lat Krabang station. Note the large curve the train passes through after the station.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38dmVuWI-gI

If you would like to see more images and video of the Bangkok Airport Rail Link please visit:

http://thaitransit.blogspot.com.au/2012/10/the-bangkok-airport-rail-link-fastest.html

I hope you find the pictures and vehicles shown to be of interest if you view this please post some comments and feelings about the pictures.

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