Cambodia is back on rails, while Vientiane-Bangkok link derails…


PHNOM PENH/BANGKOK (eTN)- Two weeks ago, Cambodia officially reopened its rail network, a first step into an ambitious trans-Asian rail network which is due to connect in the future Singapore to the city of Kunming, in China’s Yunnan Province. Cambodian rail networks was built during the French colonial time and was in used for 75 years. All lines were discontinued last year due to their poor condition.

The reopened section is 110 km long and links Phnom Penh to the town of Touk Meas in the southern part of the country. Once fully completed in 2011, the Southern Line will again be able to see trains circulating between Phnom Penh and the resort city of Sihanoukville, distant of almost 250 km.

The first phase in the overall rehabilitation and modernisation of Cambodia’s raitracks was completed at an estimated cost of US$ 141.6 millions,including US$84 million financed by the Asia Development Bank (ADB) as well as various grants from Australia, France and Malaysia. The Cambodian Government invested also over US$20 million into the project.

Speaking at the opening at Phnom Penh’s central railway station, Minister of Finance Keat Chhon said rehabilitating the country’s railways, devastated after decades of conflict, also marked an important step in the drive to boost the economy. ‘This will improve and develop Cambodia’s economy by integrating it better with the region and the world, and will ensure greater competitiveness in transportation within Cambodia and outside,’ Keat Chhon said.

In a first step, Cambodia will only have freight rail services in operation. The Northern Rail Line from Phnom Penh to Poipet/Battambang up to the Thai border is due to reopen by 2012/2013 (390 km length). Cambodian State Railways will then look at the possiblity to relaunch scheduled passengers services on all its lines. A new rail link is also planned from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City as part of the Trans-Asia rail network and has already received the backing of the Royal Government which declared the project ” a priority”. According to ADB Southeast Asia Department Director-General Kunio Senga, railways in Cambodia should by 2013 return to its full, original state and reconnect Cambodia with its neighbors. Concession to the line has been granted for 30 years to Toll Royal Railway, a subsidiary of Australian firm Toll Holdings.

In another development, Thai English-written newspaper Bangkok Post reported in its Saturday edition that Laos has undefinitely shelved plans to prolonge its new rail link from Thailand’s border up to Vientiane. The current train cross the Lao-Thai Friendship Bridge in Nong Khai up to Tha Naleng, a village located some 20 km away from Laos capital. The project was estimated to cost US$ 54 million.

The Lao government is now embarked with China into a plan to develop a high-speed train link which would connect Thailand to China through Laos which would made the current link redundant. A new bridge will be built to support the future high-speed rail service.