Earliest examples of close infrastructure collaboration between Denmark and Thailand

Inauguration of the first electric tramway in 1894 graciously presided over by King Chulalongkorn. Photo courtesy of the National Archieves of Thailand.

The Embassy of Denmark in Bangkok takes another trip down memory lane with their recent update that marks the exact day when King Chulalongkorn gave Danish Andreas du Plessis de Richelieu the concession to establish and run the first-ever tramway line in Bangkok. It is seen as one of the earliest examples of close infrastructure collaboration between Denmark and Thailand.

The Embassy of Denmark writes:

โ€œ๐Ž๐ ๐“๐‡๐ˆ๐’ ๐ƒ๐€๐˜ – ๐Ÿ“ ๐Œ๐š๐ฒ ๐Ÿ๐Ÿ–๐Ÿ–๐Ÿ•
It was on this exact day in 1887, that King Chulalongkorn from his own hand gave the Dane Andreas du Plessis de Richelieu the concession to establish and run the first-ever tramway line in Bangkok.

This is one of the earliest examples of close infrastructure collaboration between Denmark and Thailand.

For the 50-year deal to operate the tram service on seven routes, a limited company was established, in which The King bought shares and for a period of time he held 50%. Richelieu himself also held substantial portions of the shares.
Richelieu functioned as the Chairman of the Board. He appointed a Dane, Aage Westenholz, as an engineer and soon thereafter as the managing director of the line.

In 1894 the tramway was electrified (instead of using ponies) and the tramcars started driving much faster. Unfortunately, due to the narrow streets of Bangkok and the Siameseโ€™ belief that it was a blessing if their shadows were run over by a tramcar, more and more accidents occurred.

In 1895, after a dispute about the speed of the tramway, Westenholz left the company, but he later returned as Richelieu would leave Siam in 1902 and Westenholz was the only Dane in Siam with the knowledge and capacity to run the fast-growing business.

The tramway was a great success and grew very fast. Over time wealthy and influential people in and around the Westenholz family took over more and more of the shares and before Westenholz left Siam in 1910, a family group controlled the highly profitable company.
Despite its popularity, the trams fell out of favor as more cars arrived on Bangkok roads and Bangkokโ€™s urban tramway system was fully closed down in October 1968.โ€

The first tramway route between the Grand Palace and Bangkok Port. Photo: Embassy of Denmark in Bangkok
Main workshop for the tramway company which built its own electric powered passanger cars.

About Mette Larsen

ScandAsia Journalist โ€ข Scandinavian Publishing Co., Ltd. โ€ข Thailand

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