Thailand’s first railway line opened in 1893, following the route of what is now Bangkok’s Rama IV road. Across the country, a wider Northern and Southern network were constructed, the Southern line bringing the first international rail link to Thailand with its connections to Malaysia. With the construction of the Rama VI bridge over the Chao Phraya River in 1927, the networks were joined, and Thailand became a country truly connected by rail.
It was in 1963 that GE Transportation had the opportunity to provide their own solution for Thailand’s Railways, in the form of the UM12C, or GEK, locomotive. The applied dual diesel engines supplied to the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) each delivered 1,320 horsepower to transport people and goods across Thailand. Over the next few years, 50 of these reliable engines would take to the rails. Just 30 years later we added to the fleet with 38 CM22-7i, or GEA, locomotives, further strengthening our connection to Thailand’s vital railways.
A Railway to Growth
Today Thailand’s railways link over 40 provinces, carrying 50 million passengers annually. While the ambitions of those early rail pioneers to connect Thailand by rail are realised, their motivations remain true today: opening up opportunity and stimulating growth.
Railways have long been an iconic image of economic growth. The Great West of the United States was opened up by railroads, an atmosphere of excitement still captured on the silver screen. Asian powerhouse Japan moved a step further, showing the benefits of advanced high-speed rail networks interwoven with traditional domestic services.
Now Thailand finds itself entering a new phase of its own expansion. Rail infrastructure developments are in progress that will not only significantly improve logistics in the country, but deliver investment that will directly stimulate economic growth.
These benefits are not limited by the nation’s borders. Like the first connection to Malaysia over 120 years ago, railways offer the opportunity to open up the region. Infrastructure investments such as the iconic Bangkok Grand Central Station offer the catalyst for such growth, providing a regional and national hub to facilitate transport throughout ASEAN.
An open, efficient rail network will open up the transport of skilled labour, promote the ease of movement of goods and people and facilitate the free flow of capital throughout the nation. At the heart of delivering these benefits for Thailand are those vital trains that form the backbone of a reliable rail fleet.
Keeping the Wheels Turning
When dealing with the challenges of mass transportation, there is no element more important than that of reliability. The world’s most advanced rail network is nothing but a toy without the locomotives that travel along its length. With over 50 years working with Thailand’s rail network, delivering that reliability is something GE is proud to boast.
GE supplied 50 of its GEK locomotives to Thailand’s railways half a century ago. The dual engine design offered advanced reliability, providing redundancy to the locomotive in the unlikely event of one engine failing. Such design provides the stability that a mass transport network needs. Yet it is the power of these engineering marvels which offers greatest testament to their prowess. With the help of a refurbishment project in 2010-2011 to upgrade efficiency, 45 out of the 50 original GEK engines provided to Thailand 50 years ago are still in operation today.
The GEA locomotives delivered to Thailand 30 years later were a refinement on this original technology. Taking GE’s experience in delivering reliable locomotives, we provided 38 of these double engine, 2,500 horsepower locomotives, utilising GE’s BrightStar ™ system, to deliver even greater reliability to Thailand’s rail network. Over 1,200 locomotives worldwide now operate on GE’s BrightStar ™ system, bringing over 15 million operating hours of experience to ensure the most efficient running of our locomotives. Now, 20 years after delivery, 35 of those GEA engines are still travelling the rails of Thailand.
It’s not just great engineering that ensures this reliability, but the expertise of GE’s continuing engineering care. “Once the locomotive is delivered, we partner with our customers to supply long term parts supply. Of course GE offers our service provision to keep the wheels turning,” says Jonathan Lim, Senior Sales Manager, GE Transportation.
The Future by Rail
In a world of increasing connectivity and greater drives for efficiency, railways offer a solution from our past which deliver real benefits to our future. Yet the technologies that travel our rails are likewise moving forward. Rail and transport management systems and digital solutions alone could reduce locomotive emissions up to 10%. Consider too that a 1% efficiency increase in the global railway network could deliver US$27 billion in fuel savings across the globe. The potential for digital-driven efficiency is staggering.
Aside from digital capabilities that open up the future, and the excitement of high-speed rail to open up a region, there’s something vital that any railway must deliver – reliable, efficient travel.
For over 50 years, GE has been working closely with SRT and our partners in Thailand to help deliver just that. Because it’s making the network work today, that makes tomorrow happen. That’s why GE is proud to say, 50 years on, our reliable locomotives continue to help keep the wheels on Thailand’s railways turning.