Letter: Death Railway still alive

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The Independent Online
Sir: It may be of some comfort to B F James (letter, 11 August) to know that the cost in suffering and death of building the wartime Thai-Burma railway is in fact well commemorated along the River Kwai. The much visited and beautifully maintained Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries at Kanchanaburi and Chung Kai, the recently developed Memorial at Hell Fire Pass, and the vividly informative memorial museum maintained by the Buddhist monks at Kanchanaburi are moving reminders of the terrible suffering of allied PoWs and Asian labourers on the Death Railway.

B F James is concerned that a proposal to reopen the line threatens a vulgar, tourist-oriented exploitation of the site of such suffering. What has been mooted is reconstruction of the abandoned railway right through to Burma - a major project motivated by considerations far beyond the creation of a mere tourist attraction.

And use of the Thai-Burma railway would in fact be no novelty; while, after the war, much of the line was abandoned, a substantial portion was rebuilt and incorporated into the Thai railway system. It is at present possible, as it has been for 50 years, to travel by regular train from Nong Pladuk for 80 miles via Kanchanaburi and the famous bridge, to the end of the line at Nam Tok. Especially at weekends, this is a popular excursion for Thais and others; tourists they may be, but their enjoyment, as facilitated by the railway, of the peace and natural beauty of the Kwai Noi valley need not be seen as a desecration.