Thailand is planning to drive its economy through innovation following the Thailand 4.0 scheme, in which developments in the aviation industry and the logistics system involving efficient domestic and international transportation are of emphasis. Having a double-track railway foundation is a mountain that we need to climb because it will allow trains to carry a large number of goods or passengers at lower costs.
Led by the university’s President, Clinical Prof. Niwes Nantachit, Chiang Mai University has assigned the Faculty of Engineering to lead the mission on the Thai railway foundation development and establish the Chiang Mai University Advanced Railway Civil and Foundation Engineering Centre (CMU RailCFC), which will be headed by Assoc.Prof.Dr. Peerapong Jitsangiam. The centre receives more than 18 million baht worth of support from the university.
At present, there are four types of railways in Thailand: basic railway, urban railway, double-track railway and other transports. The basic rail routes are either the monorail or double-track. The monorail accounts for 3,684 km in total, and the double-track railway accounts for only 824 km. A key advantage of the latter is the fact that it allows trains to run one track in each direction and to operate at higher velocities, speeds ranging from 100 – 120 km/hr, thereby increasing transportation efficiency and boosting the economy. China’s substructural technology is adopted as the blueprint for this development, as it is the only country in the world that can make the transition from steam locomotives to high-speed rail within one generation. Going forward, we can research what needs to be built or developed utilizing knowledge in civil engineering in combination with insights on related topics such as steel rails, railroad sleeper parts, rail fasteners, track ballast, and railway drainage systems.
CMU RailCFC gets supports from the ‘Railway Alliance’, which comprises members such as Central South University and Beijing Jiaotong University. Its operation is divided into three major stages. The first stage focuses on the collaboration among the alliance members and sets up a laboratory for advanced railway foundation technology that is capable of providing a one-stop service for inspecting railroad sleepers, among others. The mission also includes developing a body of knowledge with overseas partners.
The next stage concerns proposal drafting to get funding, as 6 to 7 double-track lines are expected to be built, meaning an enormous amount of track ballasts and budget. Currently, researchers are studying the possibility of mixing old, degraded rocks along with new rocks, which would be better regarding limited budgets, as well as the environment, due to the decrease in blasting. If proven to be feasible, it will create significant positive impacts and go hand-in-hand with sustainable development goals.
As for the final stage, the goal is to run a full operation in terms of teaching and international research to produce railway personnel to fulfil the country’s needs and provide training for public and private organizations for upskilling or reskilling their workforce.
On December 15, 2022, the CMU President and the executive team attended CMU RailCFC’s progress meeting. The dean of the Faculty of Engineering, Assoc.Prof.Dr. Thongchai Fongsamootr, gave a welcoming speech, followed by the centre’s director showing the visitors around the facility and reporting on the operation’s overview and the progress of the first stage after receiving funding from the university, which has helped it procure equipment such as the Smart Ballard Box and the Dynamic/Stress-Path Soil Triaxial System.
In addition, CMU RailCFC is looking at wireless sensors and their role in railway systems. Researchers have created the Smart Rock device embedded in the track among the track ballast. It is the first time that the university has led such innovation. The device monitors the damage and degradation of the trains in great detail, and transmits the data to a responsible facility in real-time, without waiting for damages to occur. This allows for advance maintenance, which will reduce damage arising due to delays, pauses and cancellations. It will help to save significant sums being spent on repairing broken trains, as well as save time and enhance transportation efficiency. For more information about the centre, please read the article by the director at https://cmu.to/RZ0b1. In addition to being renowned nationally for railway systems, CMU RailCFC’s major goal is to ‘make Thai railway system world-class in railway track foundation structure.’