For years, several Thai governments announced different high-speed train projects that would link the capital to the north and Laos, and ultimately to China. However, most of them stalled for years due to legal issues or lack of funding. In July 2017, the Thai government paved the way to start the construction of the first of those projects that would connect Bangkok and the northeastern city of Nakhon Ratchasima, and that will eventually reach Nong Khai on the border with Laos. The project, that will cost USD 5.2 billion, is linked to the One Belt One Road Initiative, launched by the Chinese government to connect China with the rest of Asia, Europe, and Africa .
There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the project due to the rushed pace the government took to approve it after two years of delays related to legal obstacles. These obstacles were cleared in June 2017 by the government, under the control of a military junta since May 2014, using the so-called article 44, a constitutional provision that allows the military to pass any measure “for the sake of reforms in any field” overriding the normal legislative process. Thus, the government exempted Chinese engineers from passing an examination to get a license to work in the country, something required by law . Due to the controversy, the government later announced that they would have to pass the test. The use of Section 44 also saved the project from being scrutinized by a procurement committee, as required by law for all projects worth more than 5 billion baht (US$150 million) .
The government has also used its absolute powers to allow the conversion of designated farmland (known as Sor Por Kor) to build the infrastructure, what will result in expropriations of farmers. According to the government, a total of 2,815 rai (450 hectares) will be expropriated in northern Bangkok, parts of Ayutthaya and Saraburi, and Nakhon Ratchasima's Pak Chong district . The government said that the victims will be compensated but they didn't specify the amount of the compensation.
The project will also encroach national forest reserves, a highly controversial decision due to the aggressive campaign launched by the government against encroachment in this kind of area that has affected local communities . Activists also complain that the environmental impact assessment was insufficient.
In September 2017, the Thai government signed two contracts with two Chinese state companies for the design of the project and the hiring of technical advisers, but the names were not made public . Construction started in December 2017 .
The first stage of the high-speed line between Bangkok and Nakhon Ratchasima will run 250km but the entire route to the border with Laos will be 607 kilometers long and is due to be completed by 2022. The line will also connect to the deep sea port of Map Ta Phut in the Eastern part of the country . The project will be financed by the Thai government, while China will provide design and engineering expertise.