Bangkok’s new Airport Link
For my July 2000 column, I taxied into Bangkok from the old Don Muang Airport to cover the city’s Skytrain elevated railroad network, which had opened on Dec. 5, 1999. Along the way I asked the driver when the new Suvarnabhumi International Airport and the new airport train would be completed. “Maybe five years,” he guessed.
At a buffet luncheon in the Shangri-La Hotel’s Coffee Garden restaurant, I asked Rashana, my Shangri-La hostess, the same question. She told me the government was saying one or two years and took me to see how the hotel would connect with the Skytrain.
Even the taxi driver had been optimistic. Suvarnabhumi International Airport (say Sue-wanna-phoom, meaning “Golden Kingdom”) opened on Sept. 28, 2006, and more than three years later the train to Suvarnabhumj, named Airport Link, will officially commence operations on Dec. 5, 2009, Fathers’ Day, His Majesty the King’s birthday.
And what a wonderful convenience the Airport Link will be! The line will have an interchange with Bangkok subway’s Blue line at Makkasan Station and, at Phaya Thai Station, an interchange with the Skytrain network. When the City Air Terminal is completed at Makkasan Station, you will be able to check your luggage and pick it up at your destination.
Two rail services — Express and City trains — will take you between Bangkok stations and Suvarnabhumi Airport. Comfortably furnished Express trains will race without stop at 99 mph between Suvarnabhumi and Makkasan Station in 15 minutes. They will seat 164 passengers in theater seats, six in tip-up seats, and provide space for one wheelchair and access to a universal toilet. The fare will be 150 baht (about $4.40).
City trains will accommodate 150 passengers on bench seats and provide space for 595 standing. They will take 30 minutes and call at six stations between Suvarnabhumi and Phaya Thai Station’s interchange with the Skytrain network. Cost — 15 to 45 baht (44¢ to $1.30).
From visit to visit I watched concrete pillars, parallel to the toll highway and designed to support elevated trains, rise at the speed of sleepy snails. I was not aware that some had to be torn down and others built when Hopewell, the Chinese firm that was the original contractor, was stopped in 1997. In July 2005 a new contractor consisting of a consortium of B. Grimm, STECON and Siemens took over construction and electrical installation.
On Sept. 24, 2009, a 17.8-mile test run, with 1,100 Thai travel agents present, between Makkasan Station and Suvarnabhumi prompted Deputy Prime Minister Korbsak Sabhavasu to say that “the Airport Link system is ready to operate.”
Airport Link trains are electric Siemens Desiro Class 360/2. The carriages are 213 feet long and 9.8 feet wide and have more air-conditioning capacity than Desiros used for regional travel in Britain. Those used on the Express trains consist of four carriages, including one carriage for luggage. City trains consist of three carriages. The official turnover to the State Railways of Thailand occurred in Makkasan Station during late 2008.
The new Airport Link trains are the same as the Siemens Desiros used in the 12-mile Bangkok subway network (Siemens also supplied the Skytrains) that are configured to provide space for 126 seated passengers and 760 standing.
Additional rail progress
In other news, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva opened the new Skytrain extension from downtown Bangkok across the Chao Phraya River to Thonburi on May 15, 2009. The 1.4-mile link connects Saphan Taksin Station to Wong Wian Yai Station in the former Thai capital and now Bangkok suburb.
Earlier, on March 5, 2009, Thai Royal Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn stepped aboard the first passenger train linking Thailand and Laos. The 2.1-mile line between Nong Khai, Thailand, and Thanaleng, Laos, crosses the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge over the Mekong River and is the first phase of a rail link between the two countries.
I thank the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Los Angeles (phone 323/461-98l4, www.tourismthailand.org/la), for hosting my March 2009 visit to Thailand. The Thai Airways nonstop flights between Los Angeles and Bangkok were a pleasure, with comfortable seating and attentive service in economy class. Some consider Bangkok’s Eve-star Sukhothai Hotel (phone 66  2 344 8888, www.sukhothaihotel.com), with rates from 7,400 baht ($215), tops in the capital.
Visits to the Grand Palace and the exhibit “Art of the Kingdom” at Ananda Samakhorn Throne Hall, which features astonishing masterpieces by Thai craftsmen, are “must sees” on any visit to the bustling capital city.