Towards the end of the 19th century, many surveys were commissioned by the
Siamese authorities and certain western interest groups and governments,
with the object of bringing a railway system to Thailand.
One of the best known of these was the survey conducted by Holt S. Hallett,
a British colonial administrator, whose object was to promote a railway
line to take British goods from the Gulf of Martaban (Burma), through what
was then Siam, to Southern China. His superb book: A Thousand Miles on an Elephant in the Shan
, first published in 1890 and still an excellent source of
information on Northern Thailand, was the main result of this journey: the
railway, alas, was never constructed.
Then in 1887-1888, Messrs Punchard and Co., British Railway Contractors,
were commissioned by the Siamese government, to survey a line from Bangkok
to Ayutthaya and then to Korat, the first section of the current North
Eastern Line. James McCarthy, a British engineer employed by the government
of Siam, describes some of this work in his book Surveying and Exploring in Siam
published in 1900.
A second line was to go from Ayutthaya to Lopburi, then on to Lampang,
Lamphun and Chiang Mai. From Chiang Mai it was projected to go north to
Chiang Rai and eventually to Chiang Saen on the Mae Khong (Mekong
Much of this survey bore fruit, some years later, in the construction of
parts of the northern and north-eastern lines though the section of the
northern line beyond Chiang Mai has not been constructed, even to this day:
the connection north to China via Chiang Saen and the Mae Khong, was very
attractive from a trade point of view, but the engineering difficulties
presented by the mountains of northern Thailand proved too daunting.
A recent (March 2010) proposal from the Chinese Government, however, for a
high speed link between Asia and Europe might at last result the long
overdue rail link from Thailand to Southern China.
The foundations for the current railway network were laid during the
1890's and the early years of the 20th Century. J. Antonio, a
Portuguese photographer working for the Royal Railway Department in Bangkok
during this period gave some details of these early years in his book:
The 1904 Traveller's Guide to Bangkok
According to Antonio, the first railway in Thailand was the Paknam railway;
the accompanying map shows this line following the course of the
present-day Rama IV road, from near Bangkok Central Station eastwards
towards the mouth of the river. This line, opened in 1893, is no longer in
existence, though Thai friends remember using it in the 1950's.
Modern maps of greater Bangkok still show a Thanon Tang Rotfai Kao sai
("Road on the route of the former Paknam railway")
from Khlong Toey eastwards towards the river mouth.
Rail Services to Ayutthaya opened on March 9th 1894, extending to Korat in
1900 as the first section of what is now the Northeastern line. A branch
line to Lopburi became the first section of the Northern line to Chiang
In 1903 a line opened to Petchaburi on the west coast of the gulf of Siam.
This eventually became the Southern line to Butterworth, Malaysia. At that
time the line commenced at the elegant old Thonburi Railway station, now retired.
Another line was under planning to Sri Ratcha on the east
coast of the gulf of Siam (present day Eastern Line).
Antonio also mentions the construction of a private line from Thonburi to
Tha Chin on the coast. This must be the Mae Khlong-Mahachai railway, now
part of the State Railway of Thailand, though it does not connect with the
This line is mainly used to ferry sea produce and passengers from the coast
to Bangkok, but also provides the opportunity for a cheap and pleasant 1
day excursion from Bangkok to the old fishing ports of Samut Sakhon and
Samut Songkhram: see the page Mahachai
Originally the Northern and Eastern Railways were controlled by the
Northern Railway Authority, whereas services West of the Chao Phraya River
(i.e. originating in Thonburi, West Bangkok), operated under a different
authority - the Southern Railway Authority, and while the Northern Railway
used Standard Gauge (1.435m - 4ft 81/2 inches), the Southern Railway adopted Narrow Gauge (1 meter),
allowing it to link up eventually with the Narrow Gauge lines of British Malaya.
In 1917, The two authorities were merged as the Royal State Railways of Siam, and in 1920 Narrow Gauge, for
logistical reasons, was adopted as the national standard. Conversion work started by adding a third line to the Northern
network so that it could run Standard and Narrow Gauge trains. Conversion of the network was completed in 1930.
Before the two authorities were maerged the Northern and North-Eastern networks had been designed and run by German
engineers, the Southern Line by British engineers. Once the two authorities were merged it was reasonably easy to run the two networks
as separate enterprises, as at no point did the networks connect. This all changed with the decision to Bridge the Chao Phraya river at Bang Sue so
that the Southern line could join up with the other networks. This meant that international traffic would be able to
begin and terminate at Hua Lamphong Station in Central Bangkok, rather than on the other side of the River at Thonburi Station, which
involved passengers in a rver crossing prior to departure. The Rama VI rail bridge, completed in 1927, was one of the first bridges accross the Chao Phraya river.
Rama VI Bridge, Bangkok
The section is taken from the related page
During early 1942, Japanese forces occupied much of British Burma as far as The Indian border. In
June 1942, in order to supply the war effort against India, the Japanese began construction
of a railway from Bahn Pong (Thailand Southern Line) along the Kwae valley, and across the Three
Pagodas Pass, connecting with the Burmese railway network at Thanbyuzayat.
allied P.O.W.'s and a much greater number of Malays and other Asians were used as forced
labour. Most allied P.O.W.'s arrived in Thailand by train from Singapore: British and Australian military jammed 26 to a box car with
rubber planters, traders and colonial administrators, for a journey that even today takes
the best part of three days. From Bahn Pong they were marched up the valley of the Kwae Noi to the construction camps, where
the real misery began.
Conditions were appalling: backbreaking work from dawn to dusk in very difficult terrain, tropical heat or monsoon
rains, and always swarms of insects. Already suffering from malnutrition and exhaustion, thousands
succumbed to Cholera, Dysentery, Cerebral Malaria and the the casual thuggery of their
Japanese and Korean captors. It is estimated that over 100,000 Asians and more than 16,000 allied P.O.W.'s died
during the construction.
Post World War II
The Thai Railway system was severely damaged during the war and for a year after the end of the conflict, it was run by British
engineers. According to Jorges Orgibet
, who was in Thailand after the end of the war, when the Death Railway was eventually returned to Thai control:
There was a twelve hour gap between the time the British pulled out and Thai officials took over. In that half-day period 17 kilometers of rails, wooden sleepers, telephone
poles and wires disappeared in what must have been an all-time record for thievery. Those steel rails could be bought in shops all over Bangkok
for years afterwards.
From Siam to Thailand, Jorges Orgibet, 1982
He also records that most of the main rail bridges from Bangkok southwards had been destroyed by allied bombing, so trains
were assembled on each stretch of line between the damaged bridges: "Passengers disembarked at each river, were ferried across, and boarded another triain for the next stretch."
State Railway of Thailand (SRT)
After 1951 control of the whole system passed to the State Railway of
Thailand, by which time most of the present network had been constructed.
Consequent modernisation included the replacement of steam locomotives by
diesel cars, from 1982 onwards. Some of the old Steam Locomotives and
rolling stock are still visible up and down the country - see below
Relics of the steam age can be seen at Hua Lamphong, the new Thonburi
Railway Station at Bangkok Noi, Hat Yai, Chiang Mai, Phitsanulok, and many
other stations up and down the network; probably the best collection is at
the Kanchanaburi and River Kwai Bridge Stations in Kanchanaburi town. There
are some interesting rail memorabilia at the Thailand Railway Museum in
Chatuchak Park (see below).
Hua Lamphong Railway Station 2011
Officially known as "The
Bangkok Railway Station", Hua Lamphong is Bangkok's Central
Railway Station and from it nearly all routes originate. Construction
started in 1910 to replace the previous Bangkok Railway Station and it opened
for service on June 25, 1916.
A marble shrine at the end of platform 11, shown right, commemorates the
foundation of the Royal State Railway of Siam by King Chulalongkorn in 1896. Behind the shrine is a fine old 2-6-0 steam engine, No 714 (see below)
For information on Bookings etc. please see Rail Services
Thonburi Railway Station
The old, elegant Thonburi Railway Station, on the west bank of the river
next to canal Bangkok Noi, marks the original start for the Western Line to
Petchaburi, though in more recent years, it was the start of the line to
Kanchanaburi and the death railway. The station was officially
decommissioned in October 2003 and the service transferred to the Bangkok
Noi station, (now renamed Thonburi Station), about 1 km away. Much of the
land attached has been taken over by the Sriraj Hospital (seen to the left
of the old building), and currently the station seems to be used as a
The old Thonburi Railway Station
The old station was difficult to access from east Bangkok except by river,
and the new station even more so. The easiest way is still to cross the
river from Tha Phra Chan pier (behind Sanam Luang on Phra Chan Road) to the
railway pier ("Tha Rotfai") on the Thonburi side. Pick up busses
(songtaews) take passengers from the pier to the new station. The ferry
costs 3.5 Baht, the Songtaew 6.5 Baht.
The original Thonburi Railway station, opened by king Chulalongkorn in
1900, was destroyed by allied bombing during World War II; it was
reconstructed after the war in the original style and re-opened in
Thonburi Station can be seen in Jackie Chan's movie "Around the
World in 80 days" (2003) in the role of "Agra Station".
Thailand Railway Museum
A small private museum, mixing railway relics with early motorcycle,
military and other memorabilia.
Early Steam Engines and carriages take up much of the space (as one might
expect!), but one of the more interesting exhibits is a model train, a
replica of the one presented to King Rama IV by Queen Victoria. The
original occupies a prime position in the National Museum, Bangkok.
The museum is located on Kamphaeng Phet 3 road, nearest sky train station
Chatuchak Park. Telephone 02-373-9976.
The museum is open on Saturdays and Sundays; entrance is free, though
donations are always welcome.
Thailand Steam Locomotives and other Rail Memorabilia
Thailand's railways are littered with relics of the steam age - old
locomotives and rolling stock, signalling equipment, message boards, maps
etc. Most major, and some smaller, stations have steam locomotives, some in
pretty good condition.
What follows is just a selection.