The government needs $300 million to build and upgrade Cambodia’s stretch of a proposed Asean railway, scheduled by the regional body to be completed by 2006.
Asean ministers have agreed to build a modern railway from Singapore through Thailand and ending in Kunming, China by 2006. The system would include connecting routes through other Southeast Asian countries.
In previous meetings, Asean officials had weighed the benefits of avoiding Cambodia, by building the railway through Laos, for example. Now they have decided to build in Cambodia. But in order for Cambodia to bring its railway up to Asean standards, construction would have to begin as soon as possible to meet the deadline, said Sokhom Peakvanmony, director of the Royal Railway Station in Phnom Penh.
Studies and surveys have already been completed, and construction can begin as soon as the money is found, Sokhom Peakvanmony said.
“We’ve been trying many choices for those finances,” he said. “We have proposed to Japan, France and Germany and other donor countries and funding institutions. But we will see how the government can make it work.
“Only the donor countries are available to help with a grant or loan. The study is already done, and if we had the money now the project would be under way now.”
The government is planning to form a national committee to pursue funding and has already asked the Japanese government for $11.4 million in grants to the Overseas Development Agency.
The government had already decided to upgrade the old tracks from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville, and that project will cost an additional $53.5 million, Sokhom Peakvanmony said.
Railroad conditions across Cambodia have eroded greatly in the past 30 years. War and neglect have left them in poor condition, and they have been further hurt by scavenging families in the countryside who use the railway ties as firewood. In extreme heat, the tracks warp, causing delays or derailment.
The tracks would be easy to fix, according to Sokhom Peakvanmony.
“To build an Asean railway across Cambodia would not be difficult,” he said. “We have no mountains or lakes that need to be filled. We have smooth land.”
The proposed railway would enter Cambodia at Poipet and follow the existing line along the southern shore of the Tonle Sap lake into Phnom Penh. From there it would go through Snuol, in Kratie province, before exiting Cambodia into the Vietnamese town of Loc Ninh.
Sin Khandy, cabinet chief for the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, is scheduled to meet again with Asean railway officials on Thursday in Kuala Lumpur. Asean officials have held more than 30 meetings on the subject since 1990.
Plans for the railway were stalled by the 1997 regional financial crisis, Sin Khandy said. He believes Asean officials will try to find a way to help Cambodia financially.
“I expect that the 10 Asean ministers will help in the meeting and to look for funds for Cambodia,” Sin Khandy said. “They will help talk to donor countries, to help us. We have not reached any [financial] source yet.”