The Hopewell Project – A defunct mass transit project

Idea for Hopewell? - Ruins of electric train turned into terribly cool amusement park in Lima - Tree Hugger, February, 2010

SRT launches appeal, bids for compensation - Rail agency defends contract cancellation - Bangkok Post, November 17, 2008
...Early this month an arbitration committee ruled that the SRT and the Transport Ministry should pay 11.8 billion baht, plus 7.5% interest per year, and return a letter of guarantee worth 500 million baht to the Hong Kong-based Hopewell (Thailand) in compensation for terminating a concession contract to build a 60km elevated system for ordinary and electric trains, a tollway and frontage roads...

ELEVATED RAILWAY: Hopewell wants bond money back - The Nation, October 14, 2005
Hong Kong's Hopewell Holdings wants its Bt2.8-billion bid bond guarantee money back if the government opts to use the substructure of its unfinished elevated train project in Bangkok to build a new mass-transit route...

SRT demolishing Hopewell pillars in July 2005 - translated and summarized from Dailynews, June 27, 2005
Mr. Suthon Jetkeskan (Director of SRT Electrified Railway Project) told Dailynews correspondents that STECON has put the sign of Suvannabhum Airport Link construction site on Kamphaengphet 7 Local Road from Phet Uthai Intersection near Uruphongse Intersection to Klong Tan Station while the contractors are working on demolishing the Hopewell structure. The demolition would start in July 2005 and take 3-5 months to complete before the construction of the new pillars.
OTP has studied the strength of the 500 Hopewell pillars with a 30 million baht study and found that most of Hopewell pillars are good for use for the red line commuter. However the Airport Link has started so the Hopewell pillars can be used from Phayathai to Donmuang via Bangsue and Bangsue to Makkasan, but the pillars at Klongtan Station must be removed.
The demolition of Hopewell pillars at Klongtan would waste about 50-60 million baht even though this structure could be used for at least 50 years. It would save about 1 billion baht if all Hopewell pillars could be used instead of demolishing them.

Fate of the Hopewell pillars
- translated and summarized from Prachachat Thurakij, June 5-7, 2005
AIT has submitted the test results and found that 1,560 Hopewell Pillars form Yommaraj to Bangsue and Bangsue to Rangsit are still usable. Only 135 pillars from Thung Songhong to Donmuang need some skin repair due to the concrete pox. The government could save at least 1 billion baht after repairing the pillars and using them for Hua lamphong-Rangsit Red line commuter.
Only those along Makkasan-Hua Mark have to be demolished to make the way for the Airport Link.
1,560 pillars need special material to prevent concrete from making a reaction with pyrite and humidity. Otherwise, the broken pillars will become weaker and weaker. The pillars with leaking spots will be venerable for corrosion by rain.
Most Hopewell pillars can be used for another 60 years with repair while they can be used for 80-100 years with special care due to the fact that the total strength of the concrete is 500-520 kg/sq-cm--very good for concrete strength.
Even though the section from Makkasan to Hua Mark is okay for usage, some of them--about 50 pillars--obstruct the construction of the Suvannabhum Airport Link so they have to be demolished with the price tag of 2 million baht per pillar. Only the northern routes pillars can be used immediately.

Hopewell and Railway Number 9 - February 4, 2005
Wisarut reports: Most people say OTP and SRT are telling a big lie to the public about the weak Hopewell concrete. Expect a deep investigation sooner or later.

Pillars to be reused for provincial link - Study has high hopes for concrete from Hopewell mass transit project
- Bangkok Post, February 6, 2005
...The study of the pillars used along Bangkok's northern railway tracks between Bang Sue and Rangsit was commissioned by the Office of Transport and Traffic Policy and Planning (OTP) to follow up on a previous report carried out by consultants, which concluded that the pillars were too weak to be reused.
A source from the OTP said the latest tests had led to the discovery of a miscalculation in the previous test.
"As a matter of fact, the pillars have not been used or put under any pressure, so they should not deteriorate."...

Hopewell and Railway Number 9
- February 4, 2005
Wisarut reports: Most peole say OTP and SRT are telling a big lie to the publilc about the weak Hopewell concrete. Expect a deep investigation sooner or later.

Hopewell project 'will have to go' - Bangkok Post, February 1, 2005

More on the Hopewell demolition
- Manager Daily, January 31, 2005
Wisarut sums up the article: After Premier Thaksin found that virtually all Hopewell Structure is very substandard, he ordered immediate demolition of the rotten Hopewell pillars.

Warning! Hopewell structure is so substandard that virtually all of it has to be demolished
- Manager Online, January 30, 2005
2.1) 500 sets of Hopewell structure along the Eastern Railway could only support 100 kg/cm^3 load instead of 350 kg/cm^3 load as Hopewell claimed
2.2) For the Hopewell structure along the Northern Railway: only 50 of the 550 pillars meets the standard of 350 kg/cm^3
2.3) Demolishing the Hopewell structure and rebuilding the new one will cost the government 6 billion baht more instead of saving 5 billion baht as has been proposed. The one billion baht extra is for demolishing all of the Hopewell structure.

Goodbye, Hopewell
This moribund project appears to have died once and for all. On September 27, 2001, Prime Minister Thaksin refused to endorse SRT's plan to revive the project and SRT governor Saravut Thammasiri said existing pillars would be torn down if they were in the way of future rail-track expansion. This, coupled with the rusting rebar in the existing pillars, means there is probably no hope left for Hopewell.

Hello, Hopewell?
This comes up periodically... usually so political parties who have lots to gain from Hopewell construction will not lose face by having to accept cancellation.
October 2, 2001 - Reaction to the killing of the Hopewell Project
October 25, 2001 - Thaksin revives the project???
From the November 3, 2001 Bangkok Post: A consultancy firm will be hired to study investment costs and new construction patterns for the defunct Hopewell mass transit project, and set terms of reference for the selection of contractors.
August 18, 2002 - Reviving Hopewell?
December 1, 2002 - Hopewell is still in the 10 and 20 year plans for Bangkok mass transit. A new plan for a commuter train only along the route is due in early 2003. (Thansetthakij - December 1-4, 2002)
March 23, 2003 - Planning to electrify Hopewell

The leftover pillars

A rare photo from the construction phase in the early 1990's from an old SRT report.
(Thanks to Wisarut Bholsithi for finding this photo in the National Archives.)

The Story
Originally called the "Bangkok Elevated Road and Train System" (or BERTS), the Hopewell project was to be a highway to Don Muang Airport, a main line railway (for regular trains), a light rail line (a shuttle/tram from the airport into town), and a shopping center corridor--all elevated over local traffic.

Crosssection graphic of the Hopewell Project [128 KB - courtesy of Pas Seangsong, webmaster of Bangkok Highrises]

There were to be three phases--from Hualamphong (the main railway depot) to Don Muang Airport, an east-west line from Taling Chan to Huamark, and a spur to the port. All these lines would follow the traditional trains lines.

The way it was to be...

Cross section of Thai-styled Hopewell Station

The only section along the route with the upper tiers finished.
Since so much of the route has no piling at all,
this may have been a test or demonstration section.

Depending on who you ask, part of the 60 km project was to be in operation in December, 1995. The rest was to be done by December, 1999. Hopewell (Thailand) Co, a subsidiary of Hong Kong-based infrastructure developer Hopewell Holdings, stopped construction in August 1997. According to different sources, Hopewell completed anywhere from 13 to less than 10 percent. The contract allowed eight years for the completion of the project. Hopewell claims the work so far had cost US$575 million (about 20 billion baht).

There is no piling in town except for some sections on the east-bound rail tracks south of the Royal City Avenue area. The northern pillars start around the Bangsue rail station and extend in various states of completion to Don Muang Airport.


What happened?

Hopewell, headed by the charismatic Gordon Wu, seemed a good choice to undertake the project. Wu had developed a reputation for completing infrastructure projects in "difficult" Asian countries where big-money deals are often hampered by graft, poor planning, and endless committees.

According to newspaper accounts, the main problem seemed to be a lack of synergy... bad planning and relations between the parties involved.

    Mr. Wu's Hopewell Holdings Ltd. received approval for the project in 1990 without conducting a feasibility study. It began construction before securing ownership of land along the route.
    Without any clear timetable for completion, Mr. Wu had running public disputes with officials over the speed of construction. Last year, with less than 10 percent of the project completed, the government canceled Hopewell's contract.
    Thai officials said Mr. Wu had run out of money, while he blamed government instability for slowing land acquisition. Since 1990, Thailand has had one coup and an average of a government a year--besides numerous leadership changes at the Ministry of Transport and Communication.
    Mr. Wu is threatening to sue the government for breach of contract, and Mr. Akapol said the government would seek compensation for incomplete work.
    At the peak of his career Mr. Wu, son of a Hong Kong taxi driver, built a reputation for completing infrastructure projects across Asia on time despite difficult conditions. He cultivated political connections continentwide and enjoyed facing adversity in flamboyant style, once promising to take a swim in the polluted Hong Kong harbor if a project was not completed on time.
    But his company is now derided in Bangkok as "Hopeless" Holdings, and a newspaper has dubbed its half-completed pilings in the city the "Stonehenge of Bangkok."

from Thais Revisit a Troubled Mass-Transit Project, International Herald Tribune, October 10, 1998

    The Hopewell Project was signed by MOTC (Mr. Montri Phongphanit), SRT and Hopewell (Thailand) Co.Ltd. (Mr. Gordon Woo) on November 9, 1990 during the tenure of the late Montri Phong Phanit (Minister of MOTC), amid controversial rumours of corruption and unusual land deals. Hopewell had to find financial resources (about 80 billion baht - then US$ 3.2 billion) to backup the project for the right to develop real estate along the SRT lines. However, there were so many obstacles to deal with--including blueprints, land transfers, the routes which go paralell to other projects, and a financial crunch--that the project bogged down. There were also many committees dealing with the Hopewell project.... After September 1997, Mr. Suwat Liptaphallop (MOTC Minister during the Gen. Chawalit Yopngjaiyut government) sent the issue of the project delay to the cabinet and Mr. Suthep Thueaksubun decided to terminate the project in 1998. Even though several groups offered to revive it, controversies still haunt the project, earning it the the nickname "the 7-generation project."

from Studying the "7-Generation Project" (translated from Thai), Matichon, June 7, 2001

The State Railway of Thailand (SRT - they control the land on which the Hopewell project was to be built) has posted their explanation (now a dead link) of the cancellation of the project. In any event, it was a tactical mistake for SRT to stop the project. After that, the focus shifted from "why can't Hopewell finish it" to "what is SRT going to do about the project now?" It also cemented their reputation as a state agency impossible to deal with.

There were also many oddities associated with the project. Two concessions were granted to two different companies to have exclusive permission to built a tollroad to Don Muang Airport.

Unfinished Hopewell columns alongside the completed Don Muang Tollway.

The Don Muang Tollway was finished first and constructed flyovers for cross streets in such a way as to make it difficult for the Hopewell project to proceed (since large parts of both projects were side by side). Another project, the Bangkok Skytrain, had a massive station situated directly across the Hopewell Phase 2 east-west route.

Normally, a scrapped project would not warrant much mention, but Hopewell left a long line of unfinished columns that look like the ruins of an ancient Roman viaduct. Since the pillars line the main road to the airport and parallel another completed tollway, they are a constant reminder of schizophrenic planning that came to naught.


Revival plans
Many government agencies proposed ideas to enable parts of the project to be salvaged. Even Hopewell expressed interest in finishing a scaled-down version of the project, but was denied permission to restart the project since the government considered it was "no longer a viable contractor." (Bangkok Post, May 12, 1999).

A new road, called "Local Road," has been constructed along the piling easement to allow another route to the airport.

2001: The End
The arrival of the Taksin Government brought new proposals to restart the Hopewell Project, but by September, 2001, it became clear a revival would not occur.

From "Thaksin halts SRT's plan to revive Hopewell project," Business Day, September 28, 2001, by Siriphan Pongthanee:
Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has turned down the State Railway of Thailand's (SRT) proposal to revive the Hopewell project, and ordered the agency to cut back on future investment....
Meanwhile, SRT chairman Veera Musikapong said the workshop had agreed to put the Hopewell extension on hold since the project cost was improper for the current economic situation, while the solution for the remaining structure would be determined at a later date.....
The SRT has been under pressure from the public over its train services, with numerous complaints from train users including the punctuality of trains and rude conductors.

BTW: Hopewell Holdings doing fine - AP, August 24, 2002
In case anyone was wondering, the company that tired to built the ill-fated Hopewell Project locally has been profitable for the last four years.

See also Latest News for more info.

(Photo: Oran Viriyincy)

Hopewell Train Mockup
April 16, 2001
- Oran Viriyincy sent in a photo of the Hopewell demo train that sits in a junkyard along Highway 7 (36) in Chonburi.
Like the remains of the Hopewell project itself, it is impossible to miss as you drive by.
Wisarut adds the following: I saw the Hopewell mockup when it was at Hua Lamphong before a junkyard dealer bought it around 1991. Later on I heard that it was sold to a collector, but I didn't expect it would end up off the New Bangkok-Chonburi Highway.

(Photo: Photoshopped image on MThai forums)

Hopewell on the forums - September 13, 2004
Wisarut found this thread on Hopewell in the Thai-language forums along with the latest clever photoshopping of a image (above).
An earlier example of 2Bangkok image photoshopping is here: The amazing field of pipes
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