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A worker walks past a Royal Railway freight shipment in April 2016.
A worker walks past a Royal Railway freight shipment in April 2016. Hong Menea

Chinese firm floats proposal for rail link to capital’s port

A Chinese state railway construction contractor has approached the government with a bid to conduct a feasibility study on connecting the capital’s river port to the Kingdom’s sole operating railway line, a state official said yesterday.

A representative of China Railway 16th Bureau Group met with Transportation Minister Sun Chanthol on Sunday to discuss a $250 million project proposal that would link the container terminal of Phnom Penh Autonomous Port (PPAP) to the Southern Line, a 266-kilometre rail line that stretches from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville.

According to Chan Samleng, director of the railway department at the Ministry of Public Works and Transport (MPWT), the Chinese company’s proposal includes laying 42 kilometres of fresh railway from a spur on the Southern Line about 22 kilometres south of the capital.

“This is just one feasibility study for a proposed connection and we will wait to see the full details from the company before the ministry decides if it is economical,” Samleng said.

He added that while the linkage would allow the port’s LM 17 container terminal, located about 30 kilometres south of Phnom Penh on the Mekong River, to handle an increased volume of heavy containers, its necessity had yet to be determined.

“What we need to study is the amount of goods that could actually be transported on this line,” he said. “If we see the need for this project, we will consider it.”

Hei Bavy, chief executive of PPAP, said that while he attended Sunday’s meeting and welcomed the proposed study, he was not overly optimistic that the project would be given a green light.

“We think the estimated cost for the project is too expensive,” he said. “We think that a route linking the port to the railway could be done for $100 million.”

He noted that while the ultimate goal was to increase connectivity to the port, whether that is by road, river or rail, the government has not officially sanctioned any infrastructure plan.

John Guiry, CEO of Royal Railway, which holds a 30-year concession to operate Cambodia’s railway network, said that with Prime Minister Hun Sen and the Transport Ministry finally making a concerted effort to develop the Kingdom’s nascent rail infrastructure, design proposals have been flooding in.

“There has been increased interest in connecting more areas to the railway including to the [capital’s] port,” he said. “Between the Chinese and the Japanese, I think the ministry has four or five different options.”

Nevertheless, he ranked a rail line to the port as “medium priority” for the government and the company. “Right now the focus is to get the Northern Line to Poipet mostly operational by December of this year,” he said.

“Any other project proposal will stand in that development’s shadow.”

Guiry said a link between the Southern Line and the capital’s river port could come in about three years once work on the 386-kilometre Northern Line was complete. He added that any feasibility study would need to spend time looking at not only the infrastructure costs, but also land acquisitions.

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