(1999-2009)BTS Skytrain and Bangkok City Fabric: “Stonehenge” Leftovers from the City’s Mass Transit Development – the Hopewell Project
The BTS Skytrain is the first mass transit system in Bangkok with an elevated railway running across the Bangkok. However, it is certainly not the first proposal of a mass transit railway system for Bangkok. In the planning of the current BTS Skytrain, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration government had stumbled across several alternatives and some have in fact been in development for a certain period. These unfinished project has shaped the Bangkok city in certain extent and left footprints on the city fabric.
The Bangkok Elevated Road and Train System(BERTS), also known as the Hopewell project after the main contractor of the project, Hopewell Holdings from Hong Kong. The Hopewell project is a 60-kiliometer multimodal transport system linking the central Bangkok to Don Mueang International Airport in the north which included an elevated toll road, an MRT system, grade separation of the Thailand State Railway (SRT) track, local road improvements, and a port rail line from Makkasan (World Bank, 2002). The project is a joint venture of the Thai Ministry of Transport, the State railway of Thailand(SRT), and the Hopewell Holding of Hong Kong. Despite the absence of a feasibility study or a clear timeline for completion, the 80-billion-baht project was approved on 09 November 1990 (Crampton, 1998).
The Hopewell project have resembled certain degree of the megastructure ideals. This could be viewed as a scale down version of the Lower Manhattan Expressway by Paul Rudolph. On the top level was an expressway to the Don Muang Airport. In mid-level contains the railway system where the central part ran a main line railway for regular trains and a light rail line are on the two sides as route from the airport into the city center. Underneath the railways are a shopping center corridor as an elevated plane of activities for pedestrians. All of these are elevated over the existing local traffic roads. The mega-infrastructure creates an express corridor that activates the linkage between the already rapidly developing Bangkok center to the northern part to the Airport which links to the international world. This project has a strong notion of the Bangkok government’s aspiration in the speed and fast development of Bangkok.
An infrastructural project in this large scale that is privately funded was approved for construction without a comprehensive feasibility study will definitely have many potential hurdles. The construction of the project commenced with erecting structural frames along the designated corridor. However, work progress came to a halt at the time of the collapse of the Bangkok property boom in 1997 that the project remained only 14 percent completed for over nine months (World Bank, 2002). The Government finally announced the termination of the concession to the Hopewell Holding in spring 1998 due to “the slow progress of the venture and the inability of Hopewell to close the necessary project financing” (Chetham, 1998). With the termination of the project, many bridge frame structures were left behind. The massive concrete pillars and beams of the abandoned project are then being referred by the locals as the “Stonehenge” of Bangkok.
Apart from the visual soreness to the city as a reminder of the city’s failure of transit development, the leftovers of the Hopewell project actually could provide opportunities to the future development of the Mass Transit Development. The failure of Hopewell project could mainly be due to political reason and the weak position of the government in terms of economic status. Much of the transit development project have to be relied on private funding. However, it does not mean that the original proposal of the integrated design of a transit corridor has to be abandoned completely.
The original proposal might just have to be the solution needs for the shortcoming of the existing restrained BTS Skytrain in the center that the Hopewell route links the city center to the northern suburb of Bangkok. Under pressure for expanding its service since its commencement of service in 1999, there have been proposals of the extension plan for the BTS Skytrain to make use of the already present foundation of structures. Yongyuth Sarasombat, secretary-general of the Office of the Commission for Management of Road Traffic, said his office would encourage the BTS to expand its skytrain project with the discarded Hopewell pillars (Srivalo, 2001).
The development of an infrastructural project, from the planning to management period, have huge impacts on the urban fabric. As from the case of Hopewell Project, it might just be the example to illustrate the importance of planning and management of an infrastructural project which will have an immense impact on the future development of the city.
Andrew Chetham, “Hopewell notified Thai deal scrapped”, South China Morning Post, February 02, 1998. Accessed December 10, 2016.
Ken Gwilliam, Cities On The Move: A World Bank Urban Transport Strategy Review (Washington: The World Bank, 2002)
Piyanart Srivalo, “Skytrain could use Hopewell pillars”, The Nation(Thailand), June 07, 2001. Accessed December 10, 2016.
Thomas Crampton, “Thais Revisit a Troubled Mass-Transit Project”, International New York Times (formerly the International Herald Tribune), October 14, 1998, Accessed December 10, 2016.
“The Hopewell Project – A defunct mass transit project”, 2Bangkok.com, Accessed December 10, 2016, http://2bangkok.com/2bangkok-masstransit-hopewellmain.html