Cambodia and Thailand have agreed to push ahead with completion of a railway line from Bangkok to Phnom Penh, with the two countries signing a memorandum of understanding during Prime Minister Hun Sen’s visit to the neighbouring country last week.
The long-delayed project is part of the eastern corridor of the Singapore-Kunming Rail Link, a key link in increasing connectivity among ASEAN member states.
The Cambodian government will focus on completing a 6.5-kilometre railway stretch between Poipet and Sisophon by midyear 2016, according to Ly Borin, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Transportation.
“First, we will connect the missing tracks on our side to reach the border of Thailand,” he said.
The government, he said, will look at running trains on the 6.5-kilometre stretch late next year, after which they will work with the Thai government on connecting the rail networks of the two countries.
“After the connection is ready, we will discuss the procedures to have a train run across countries, but currently it is important to connect the tracks first,” Borin said.
After completion of the 6.5-kiolmetre railway line, Borin said they will also look at running trains from Phnom Penh to Sisophon, as well as look into the possibility of having trains to Singapore.
The railway line, a project funded by the Asian Development Bank in 2010, hit a few hurdles when the development bank’s internal watchdog found that they had flouted their own safeguards when it came to resettlement of Cambodians affected by the project.
“We will have a discussion with local authorities on Monday to address the issue of people affected by the project, in order to be ready for construction early next year,” said Borin, adding that the ADB will be involved in the process as well.
Ho Vandy, an adviser to the Cambodia Chamber of Commerce, said train transportation is a new avenue for Cambodians, adding that it was less costly, safer and enabled the movement of goods as well.
“This project will help push the setting up of Cambodian railways faster, and is important given that we are close to AEC.”
He added that the new connection will increase tourist arrivals from Thailand, who will have another travel option once the railway line is completed.
The railways, he said, will also give Cambodians a low-cost and quicker option of travelling to Thailand, be it for business or pleasure.
According to state-run media AKP, the two governments also signed agreements to open two new international checkpoints in Banteay Meanchey, as well as develop special economic zones along the Banteay Meanchey-Sa Keo and Koh Kong-Trat borders.