Mass looting of materials from the Royal Railway of Cambodia’s southern line over the past few months will cause delays and hamper efforts to rehabilitate the country’s train system, an official for the French company rehabilitating the tracks said Monday.
Work began last year on the $141 million rehabilitation project. In the intervening months as regular train services stopped thieves have removed wooden and steel cross ties, as well as steel fasteners to sell as scrap metal or for other purposes, said Benoit Bouanchaud, southern line site manager for the French firm TSO.
Last month, TSO complained to local authorities when engineers first discovered the thefts, which have since increased in number and location, he said.
“This will delay the project for sure but we don’t know by how much,” Mr Bouanchaud said, adding the amount of material stolen and potential costs are also unclear.
“Now the people see the rail is not operating and they feel free to take whatever they want,” he said.
He added that the rail in its current state is needed to transport materials for the rebuilding of the tracks. However, that is now impossible because of the looting, which has made impassable sections along the 166 km of track between Kampot and Sihanoukville and 266 km of track between Kampot and the capital, he said.
“The government has to take action,” he said.
Ly Borin, chief of the Royal Railway of Cambodia, said officials are meeting with local authorities on the railway track thefts today.
The northern line has been free from theft, he said, adding that most of the looting has occurred in Stung Hav district in Preah Sihanouk province, he said.
Tak Vantha, Preah Sihanouk provincial police chief, said he has ordered commune police to watch over the tracks but the patrols face obstacles and police traditionally don’t work at night.
“We are protecting the railroad, but it is too long a location and the looters are stealing the cross ties and fasteners at nighttime,” he said.
Thlaing Phirin, the Kampot provincial police chief, said he stopped several boys from stealing steel bolts from the tracks, but released them because the bolts were old, rusty and of little value.
“We have cooperated with the company, if they ask for more cooperation I will send our district police,” he said.