Thai-Chinese high-speed rail to start operating in 2023 -official

BANGKOK, Sept 3 (Reuters) - The first phase of an 873-km (542 mile) high-speed railway between Thailand and China is expected to begin operating within four years, a senior government official said on Tuesday.

The first 252-km leg connecting the Thai capital, Bangkok, and the northeastern province of Nakhon Ratchasima will start service in 2023, deputy government spokeswoman Traisuree Taisaranakul told reporters.

Thailand will shoulder the total construction cost of 179 billion baht ($5.85 billion) for the first phase, with China responsible for installing systems, design and the procurement of trains, a government video released to reporters showed.

The project - part of China’s planned network of rail links across Southeast Asia that would eventually connect Kunming in southwest China with Singapore - was delayed in 2016 when Thailand rejected Chinese financing due to high interest rates.

The next phase of the line will connect Nakhon Ratchasima to Nong Khai province, which borders Laos and will eventually link up to China, Traisuree said.

Construction and bidding contracts will be finalized this year, Acting Governor State Railway of Thailand (SRT), Worawut Mala, told Reuters.

The SRT expects to finalize a consulting agreement for the second phase by the end of this month, the Ministry of Transport said in a statement.

The trains will run at speeds up to 250 kph (155 mph), with ticket prices ranging between 107 baht to 534 baht ($3.50 to $17.45), Traisuree said. ($1 = 30.6000 baht) (Writing by Chayut Setboonsarng; editing by Kay Johnson and Darren Schuettler)