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sts.components.contact.mr.placeholder Sebastian Webel
Mr. Sebastian Webel

Editor-in-Chief

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Pictures of the Future
The Magazine for Research and Innovation
 

Urban Mobility

A Master Plan to Counteract non-stop Traffic Congestion

Instead of widening its roads, Bangkok is relying on environmentally friendly urban rail. Thanks to rail-based mass transit systems, both residents and tourists can avoid the daily inner-city congestion.

Bangkok, a major business center, is preparing for the future by creating a new local public transport network. Siemens is supporting this megacity’s efforts in many different ways.

It’s not uncommon for babies to be born on the way to the hospital in Bangkok, given the notoriously congested streets of Thailand’s capital. Every day, millions of cars creep bumper-to-bumper here on roads that were once canals. They are joined by tuk-tuks, or auto rickshaws, and motorcycle taxis that maneuver through the endless lines of vehicles.

Reducing Road Traffic

If not for public transport, the traffic system would have collapsed a long time ago. There are more than seven million registered vehicles here in a metropolitan area with a population of 11 million. As late as the early 1990s, residents of Bangkok took around 80 percent of their trips in buses, cars, mopeds or taxis. During rush hours, the average speed in the city center was less than ten kilometers per hour. Obviously something had to be done. Because of the lack of space, building new roads isn’t an option in Bangkok. That’s why the city’s government decided to turn to public transport as a solution. The associated projects have improved the situation in recent years — and Siemens has played a major role in this positive development.

In 1994 Bangkok’s urban and transport planners drew up an ambitious master plan known as the Bangkok Mass Transit Development Plan. The main component of the plan was the creation of more than a dozen new subway and rapid urban rail lines by the turn of the century. Although changes have been made to the plan since that time, its basic structure has been retained. In recent years, Siemens Mobility has designed and implemented the plan’s first three rail systems, and these now form the basis for the further expansion of Bangkok’s transport infrastructure.

Bangkok, Thailand’s capital, has more than eight million residents and is by far the largest city in the kingdom. The city’s greater metropolitan area is currently home to more than eleven million people.

A Bangkok Landmark

The plan’s first major achievement was the Skytrain, which was completed by Siemens in 1998. The Skytrain runs above Bangkok’s congested streets on viaducts whose height ranges from 12 to 30 meters. During rush hours, it operates at two-minute intervals. The Skytrain carries more than 600,000 passengers every day and has become a Bangkok landmark. Around 32 kilometers of lines are currently being added to the Skytrain network.

The Skytrain carries more than 600,000 passengers every day and has become a Bangkok landmark.

Siemens also built Bangkok’s first subway line. The company was awarded the contract for the Blue Line in 2001. The line runs in a semicircle under one of the most important — and most congested — traffic arteries, linking the Chatuchak district in the north with the Pathum Wan district in the southwestern part of the city. Construction here was a little tricky, as Bangkok is situated in a lowland along the Chao Phraya River, which is the biggest in Thailand. The construction engineers had to make sure that no water got into the tunnel, especially during the rainy season. The subway transports more than 280,000 passengers each day. The operator recently commissioned Siemens to expand the network. As a result, 28 kilometers will be added to the Blue Line by 2020 and 19 additional stations will be built. The two rail-based local public transport systems have expanded over time and now consist of four lines that run from downtown Bangkok to the north, northwest, southeast, and southwest, providing service to 65 stations.

Siemens also completed the Airport Rail Link in 2010. This line’s air-conditioned cars now transport as many as 50,000 passengers back and forth every day from the center of Bangkok to Suvarnabhumi Airport, which is 28 kilometers away. The four rail systems — Skytrain, subway, and Airport Rail Link — all meet at several stations. That makes it easy to transfer between them quickly. Thankfully, all of these projects have led to an increase in the average speed on Bangkok’s streets and roads to 18 kilometers per hour.

Expansion of the Public Transport Network

Still, this won’t be enough for the long term. The World Bank predicts that around 60 percent of Thailand’s population will be living in the urban region in and around the capital by the middle of the century — that’s ten million more people than live there now. The existing public transport network is not equipped to handle this, so plans call for an expansion of the network that will enable 60 percent of the population to use public transport by 2021, as opposed to 40 percent today. The rapid rail network in the greater Bangkok area is set to grow to over 500 kilometers by 2029.

Plans call for an expansion of the network: Bangkok wants to expand its rapid rail lines to a total length of more than 500 kilometers.
A clear goal: Bangkok is completely committed to having one of the best regional rail transport systems in Asia.

The Infrastructure Investment Plan will involve the construction of new subway and rapid urban rail lines or the expansion of existing ones. To begin with, the core area of the local transportation network will be expanded. In 2017 work is being carried out on 36 different transportation projects in parallel. This includes the construction and expansion of subway lines such as the Blue, Green, Pink, Yellow, and Orange Lines as well as the acquisition of additional buses and the modernization of the luggage handling system at the airport. Once this work is completed, the transportation systems will be expanded into the surrounding region.

The plan is to gradually expand the rapid rail lines in the Bangkok metropolitan area from around 100 kilometers today to a total length of more than 500 kilometers. Siemens has the right portfolio here, as it can supply not only the rail vehicles but also the required signal and operating technology, the drive system technology, and the power supply systems. In addition, Siemens is able to deliver complete turnkey rail systems and provide maintenance services.

Number of Passengers Is Set to Multiply

Siemens has been active in Thailand since 1900. During the severe flooding that took place in Bangkok in November 2011, Siemens helped prevent chaos in the city by running extra shifts with its employees to ensure that the Skytrain continued to operate smoothly. Siemens also actively supports the education of rail engineering students at Thailand’s leading universities.

Experts believe that passenger numbers will increase sharply if the plans to rapidly expand the public transport system over the next few years are successful. For example, the management at BTS Group Holdings believes that, over the next three years, the completion of new lines will increase the number of passengers on the Yellow and Pink Lines and the Skytrain to a daily average of up to 2 million. Experts say that if everything proceeds as planned, Bangkok will ultimately end up having one of the best public transport systems in Asia.

Birth attendants on wheels: A special unit of Bangkok’s police force has so far assisted at the births of over 120 children on the streets of this megacity.

Contract Extended to 2029

At least Bangkok doesn’t have to worry about the reliability of the rail-based components of the transport system, because Siemens is responsible for the maintenance of the Skytrain and the subway (Blue Line) as part of a series of full-service contracts. The contracts cover the trains, the signaling and signal tower equipment, the control center, and the entire electricity supply, including the power for the trains. The service contracts also include maintenance of the tracks, the depot equipment, repair shops, and building and communication systems. Siemens also helps the customers run more than 99 percent of the trains on time. The maintenance contracts were originally set for five to ten years but were renewed in 2014 for another 15 years for the Skytrain and another ten years for the subway. In October 2016 Siemens also won part of the maintenance business for the Airport Rail Link. As a result, the company's technicians now ensure that the link's signaling system is in operation around the clock.

Whether they’re traveling in the streets or on trains, the residents of Thailand’s capital can look forward to getting around their city faster — and that’s particularly good for women who are about to give birth. However, should they get stuck in traffic nevertheless, the city of Bangkok has a contingency plan involving a police motorcycle unit that was established in 1993. The unit is staffed by trained birth-assistance specialists who can make their way through the heavy Bangkok traffic to help. They’ve already delivered more than 120 babies this way.

Hubertus Breuer
Picture credits: from top: 2. picture Shutterstock, 4. Bloomberg / Getty Images, 5. picture alliance / dpa