Commercial trains will start running again this week after a year-long absence as the first section of Cambodia’s rehabilitated railway system opens, a railway executive said yesterday.
“The line will officially open on Friday,” said David Kerr, CEO of Toll Royal Railways, the company charged with rebuilding the country’s rail service.
Freight trains will begin traveling along a 118-kilometer stretch of track between Phnom Penh and the Touk Meas area in Kampot province’s Banteay Meas district, Mr Kerr said. This line will eventually run all the way to Preah Sihanouk province, though he said it was too soon to say when passenger service will be available.
The company will hold a ceremony to mark the inauguration of the new line, Mr Kerr said. There will be traditional dances and Buddhist monks will bless the line ahead of the maiden journey, according to a program for the event released yesterday.
The company ran a successful test of the Kampot line on Oct 1, and work trains have been running up and down the line without incident for months, Mr Kerr said in a recent interview.
The $141 million railway redevelopment–partly funded by a $42 million supplementary loan from the Asian Development Bank to the Cambodian government and a $21.5 million grant from the Australian Agency for International Development–has been in the works since 2006
Toll, an Australian transport company, signed an operating concession agreement in June. At the beginning of September, the company also began renovating the Phnom Penh rail terminal in Daun Penh district. According to information posted on the company’s website, the process is scheduled to take several months.
Kampot’s Banteay Meas district is home to many of the country’s cement factories. District council director Chhay San said cement production was the region’s biggest industry and that factories had already begun using the railway system to transport their goods to Phnom Penh.
“The train transports hundreds of tons of cement every day,” Mr San said.
One local operator, K Cement Company, plans to build a rail link between their factory and the new line to facilitate transport, Mr San added.
The railway will also affect the thousands of people who live along the tracks–some 3,649 households, according to the ADB.
Around 1,600 of these households are located fewer than 3.5 meters from the tracks and will have to be relocated, according to the ADB. A resettlement plan was drafted in 2006 and is currently being updated.
Commercial trains stopped running in Cambodia in November 2009, according to Ly Borin, chief of railroads at Royal Railways of Cambodia, the section of the Ministry of Transportation tasked with railway administration.
Mr Borin said the country has ambitious plans for its new railway system.
“Now the government has been studying a plan to develop the railway from Phnom Penh to Vietnam but the government did not have money to develop [it],” he said.
It is hoped that Cambodia’s rehabilitated railway will one day connect to the Singapore-Kunming Rail Link, creating an unbroken railway service from Singapore to China.