Railway Audit Finds Poor Maintenance of Tracks

Toll Royal Railway, the private operator of Cambodia’s train service, has no system in place to regularly inspect the state of its tracks, and lacks qualified inspectors to check either tracks or bridges, according to a recent safety audit of the firm’s Phnom Penh operations.

The audit is dated November and notes several areas where operations fall short of common industry practice or are outright non-compliant.

According to the audit, Toll had been maintaining the railway tracks even though it had not officially accepted responsibility for them. Even so, the audit says the firm appeared to have only one qualified track inspector on staff. That inspector could not confirm that the tracks were being inspected on a systematic and regular basis.

“Track patrol by unqualified persons are [of] specific perils and cannot replace need for regular inspections by qualified inspectors,” the audit reads.

Toll Royal Railway CEO David Kerr declined to discuss the audit Thursday. He said it was a “training audit” conducted by the Transportation Ministry’s railway department, and referred all other questions to Toll’s corporate offices.

Mr. Kerr said the release of the audit violated a confidentiality agreement Toll had with the ministry and that a company official would be in touch soon. By Thursday evening, Toll officials had not returned a request for comment.

At the Transportation Department’s railway department, director Ly Borin confirmed that his staff had carried out the safety audit of Toll’s operations in Phnom Penh late last year over the course of two to three months.

“We sent our staff to get training on safety compliance…and inspection because we want our staff to understand about this kind of work,” he said.

Mr. Borin said a private company had helped the department with the audit but declined to name the firm. Other officials at the ministry could not be reached.

The 10-page audit says that “safety is being given a high priority in all activities” at Toll, but goes on to list several areas in which safety standards are non-compliant or short of proper industry practice.

It says “bridges and culverts are not being inspected regularly by qualified inspectors,” and that records of such inspections were not available.

Following a trip along the tracks, it says, some places were found to have shoddy welding that needed testing. On inspection of the locomotive and wagon shops, the audit revealed a locomotive with an inoperative handbrake and staff at work without the proper safety equipment. Auditors looked for but could not find maintenance plans for either locomotives or certain types of brakes. The use of welded wheels and cast iron brakes instead of composite brakes fell short of good industry practice.

Toll holds a 30-year concession to operate the country’s tracks and began service on the first stretch of the southern line from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville in 2010. The longer northern line from Phnom Penh to the Thai border at Poipet City, however, is still under repair after having suffered from decades of war and neglect. An Asian Development Bank-funded project to restore the line has run out of funds.

Toll Royal Railway is a partnership between Australia’s Toll Holdings Limited and local conglomerate Royal Group.

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