THAI floods severed global supply chains for companies such as Apple Inc and Toyota Motor Corp in 2011. The country is debating whether to spend US$75 billion (RM240 billion) on its roads, rails and waterways to avoid another disruption.
The disaster exposed a weakness in Thailand's approach to offering a low-cost manufacturing base as floodwaters swamped 839 factories, flooded roads and cut rail links.
Floods have spread across almost half of the nation's provinces again this year, lending a sense of urgency to a parliamentary debate this week on a proposal to build a high-speed rail network and modernise roads and ports.
The upgrades, including a separate US$11 billion project to improve waterways, are critical to ensure components from Thai suppliers reach Apple's assembly lines in China and buyers of Sony Corp cameras in the United States.
Thailand also plans to spend US$9 billion to improve highways in a country where three people die every hour in crashes, making the nation's roads the world's second-most deadly, according to the World Health Organisation.
"Infrastructure investment would lift the capacity and the potential of the economy and the country," Deputy Prime Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong said in an October 3 interview. "It is important that we transform ourselves."
The projects are also aimed at taking advantage of moves by Thailand and nine Southeast Asian neighbours to ease trade restrictions and form a European Union-style common market of 604 million people in 2015.
The Asean is planning a 5,500km rail project linking Singapore with Kunming in China, including a possible high-speed link between Singapore and Malaysia.
"It's a regional responsibility for Thailand to improve transportation to link with other countries in terms of mobility for labour and resources," said Julia Goh, an economist at CIMB Investment Bank Bhd in Kuala Lumpur.
"If you are falling behind, it not only affects Thailand, but also limits potential growth for the region."
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra envisages building four high-speed train routes by 2020, eventually linking Bangkok with Chiang Mai in the north, Nong Khai near the border with Laos, the eastern manufacturing hub of Rayong and with Padang Besar on the Malaysian border.
In addition to spending US$26 billion on high-speed trains, the government plans to spend US$13.4 billion to extend and upgrade its rail network to double-track and US$15.7 billion to expand Bangkok's mass transit system. It estimates the average speed of trains delivering freight will increase from 39kph to 60kph.
Thailand will also upgrade 35 Customs checkpoints and build six more to remove bottlenecks, Kittiratt said, adding that trucks delivering goods to Malaysia are often stuck at Customs for 24 hours. Building more expressways and improving existing roads will help reduce accidents, he said.
Korn Chatikavanij, a former finance minister and deputy leader of the opposition Democrat party said parliament may pass the legislation by the end of next month. Bloomberg