serei saophoan district, Banteay Meanchey – As ground broke Monday on a project to rehabilitate and extend Cambodia’s current railway lines to Thailand, Prime Minister Hun Sen said that a new railway line to Vietnam is needed as well.
The $73-million rehabilitation project will rebuild and repair 652 km of rail lines from Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh and from Phnom Penh to Poipet.
The 48-km stretch of track from Svay Sisophon town to Poipet, which was destroyed in the 1970s, will be completely rebuilt in order to connect the existing line to Thailand. The project is expected to be completed near the end of 2009, officials said.
“Today our rail is not as modern as other countries, but we are starting with the rehabilitation of these two lines,” Hun Sen said during the ceremony.
Hun Sen urged Asian Development Bank President Haruhiko Kuroda, who also attended the ceremony, to help Cambodia secure $500-million worth of low-interest loans to build a new 257-km railway from Phnom Penh to Loc Ninh, Vietnam, which would complete the connection of the 5,500-km Singapore-Kunming railway.
The ADB contributed $42 million in concessional loans to the railway rehabilitation project, according to an ADB press release.
Kuroda said the railway has played an important role in the country for 75 years and most people understand that it is a sign of development and a way to integrate with surrounding countries.
Work on Cambodia’s railway system began in 1929, and was modernized in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s before being damaged by war in the 1970s.
Hun Sen said the possible extension of rail line to Vietnam would be expensive and countries like China, South Korea and Japan should contribute. Two bridges would need to be built across the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers, he said.
Speaking at the ceremony, Minister of Public Works and Transport Sun Chanthol said the rehabilitation would result in a modern line that meets international standards. Trains will be able to travel as fast as 50 kph and the rail will be able to handle 15- to 20-ton cars.
The project, he said, would allow the country to transport goods reliably and reduce consumer prices.
Hun Sen said that tourists could use the new rail to travel between Bangkok and Phnom Penh when it is completed. Onlookers at Monday’s ceremony also expressed excitement over the restoration of the rail line.
Chhum Roeun, a 54-year-old father of five, said he was proud that the railway would function as it had when he was younger.
“I saw the train transporting goods from Thailand to Battambang along this rail. It was much faster than it is today,” he said.
Am Seng, 60, said she looked forward to traveling on the train from Svay Sisophon to Battambang or, perhaps, Phnom Penh.
“I hate road traffic. I hate taxis.”
The French firm TSO and Thailand-based Nawarat will rebuild and repair lines between Phnom Penh and Poipet and also lines between Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville. Australia-based Toll Holdings is currently negotiating a 30-year concession agreement to operate the lines.