THE PEOPLE STILL WANT THEM

HOW FORTUNATE IT IS WHEN WE CAN PRESERVE HISTORY AS WE WANT…

Over the past couple of months, those who are in the architectural conservation circle must have been following updates on the development of the Jira Road-Khon Kaen double-track rail project as a part of the government’s Infrastructure Development Plan quite closely, especially when the news broke that the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) is demolishing 16 railway stations on the route that runs through Nakhon Ratchasima and Khon Kaen, Thailand’s principal anchor provinces.

As many would expect, the reaction from conservation enthusiasts was an attempt to stall the demolition and find possible conservational approaches for these buildings whose minimum age range is as high as 60-100 years old. The movement has Assistant Professor Parinya Chukaew of the Faculty of Architecture, King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology Ladkrabang, as the initiator. Being a professor of Architecture and Planning, Assistant Professor Chukaew has a keen interest in and acknowledgement for the significance of these old train stations. He’s been advocating for participation from the public sector with support from the Association of Siamese Architects (ASA) together with Vichien Chantaranothai, the Governor of Nakhon Ratchasima and Pongsak Preechavit, the Governor of Khon Kaen, in the negotiation of and proposal for the conservation of the old railway stations with the SRT’s Deputy Governor and representative, Prasert Attanandana. The discussion came down to the conclusion that if the two provinces were able to find suitable sites within 100 meter radiuses from the old stations, the SRT would relocate the stations (the ones with wooden structures) and reinstall them in the new designated locations (technically speaking, the possibility for such relocation to be executed remains to be seen) and the SRT will further transfer the ownership of the buildings to the provinces. Additionally, if the provinces wish to relocate the structures to other sites, they must be responsible for the expenses, which are 150,000 THB for each building.

Ban Ko Station, Photo courtesy of Thai PBS

With the conclusion being agreed upon, the governors of both provinces have been trying to come up with the most suitable solutions for the conservation of the stations, each of which comes with its own conditions varied by the demands of its neighboring community. One example is Tha Phra Station in Khon Kaen where the locals are playing a significant part in the conservation of the relocated building by proposing the idea of turning the old station into Tha Phra Learning Center. Another interesting example is Non Sung Station in which the community members suggested that the station should be relocated to a new site in Soun Phak Community with the new given functionality of a learning center in a public park. There are a number of stations where it was too late to save them as they had already been torn down such as Ban Makha and Phon Songkhram. There’s also the case of Khon Kaen Station whose concrete structure and location make the demolition somewhat inescapable for it is situated in an area where the new track will be constructed. While the SRT is planning to preserve certain stations that are not in the perimeter of the route expansion such as Ban Dong Phlong station in Nakhon Ratchasima, there are also several other stations whose future has not yet been determined with no specific direction properly decided on as the time of the construction indicated in the contract roams near.

The development of the Jira Road-Khon Kaen double-track rail project is probably one of the many projects that reflect the bigger picture of what will happen through the Infrastructure Development Plan and the six routes of double -track rail it will bring nationwide, including the SRT’s own development plan in the future. Speculation from the academic community is that there should be at least 300 railway stations that will be affected by the plan. Judging from the majority of opinions, there are only a few that refuse the long-overdue development of the country (a large number of people question whether a more efficient railing system would be a better alternative than the double-track rail). Even from the aspect of conservationists, while each station contains its own historical and architectural value, such value may be varied by different standards or measurements used by different groups of people. As a result, the point of view of experts from the Fine Arts Department doesn’t always have to be prioritized when it comes to determining a building’s value and significance for the opinions of people within the community can be equally important. The collective memories community members have for a building is a source of merit that should not be overlooked, but in the meantime, the efficiency of the building’s functionality is an aspect that needs to be carefully considered and evaluated with contemporary factors and changes being included. Most importantly, the governmental sector must learn to adjust its own attitude and listen to people’s voices for policies sometimes work better when implemented from a bottom-up rather than a top-down approach.

Thapra Station, Photo courtesy of Thai PBS

TEXT: WICHIT HORYINGSAWAD

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