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Rail looks for new funding

Rail looks for new funding

120523_07

A Toll Royal employee climbs aboard a train at Phnom Penh Railway Station in 2010. Photograph: Sovan Philong/Phnom Penh Post

It's a nearly 300-kilometre stretch of rail in disrepair. More than 60 bridges – some crumbling, some dotted with landmines at the base – lie on the line between the towns of Bat Deong, northwest of Phnom Penh, and Sisophan near the Thai border.

It’s also where about US$118 million in grants and concessional loans from the Asian Development Bank, AusAid and other donors came up short in the effort to rehabilitate the country’s railways.

“More reserves should have originally been put in place,” Peter Broch, senior transportation economist at ADB in Cambodia, said yesterday, adding that the tracks were in a poorer state than originally thought when assessments were conducted five years ago.

The shortfall, and the reportedly slow pace of progress on the line, led to the suspension on March 31 of Toll Royal Group’s operations.

The company, which has a 30-year concession for operations, has yet to issue a formal statement announcing the suspension, but a majority of the company’s staff have left the job.

Sources of funding for the remaining track are unclear, but an official at ADB yesterday said the line that would connect Thailand to Cambodia’s only deepwater port would be complete in 2015.

The search for the remaining money, which experts yesterday said could not be assessed at present, was now in the hands of the government.

“This is with the expectation that the government would be able to mobilise some sources of funding,” ADB Cambodia country director Putu Kamayana said yesterday.

“I understand that there are public and private sources looking into it.”

There’s an equal amount of speculation on Toll’s concession, which is in partnership with domestically owned Royal Group of Companies.

While ADB expects Toll to operate the 256-kilometre southern line when completed at the end of this year, Putu Kamayana also said that “we’ve heard the rumour that there are others waiting in the wings”.

No firms have stepped forward as the successor to Toll.

Touch Chankosal, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Transportation and Public Works, declined to comment yesterday on other possible companies interested in the Toll concession.

Council of Ministers spokesman Ek Tha yesterday also declined to comment on developments regarding Cambodia’s railways.

In early May, Pierre Chartier, a transportation specialist at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia, told the Post that a slowdown on Cambodia’s railways could lead to slower regional progress on both the Vietnamese and Thai sides of the track.

A functioning railroad in Cambodia would save $1 billion in road and sea transportation costs during the first 30 years of operation, according to an ADB estimate.

To contact the reporter on this story: Don Weinland at [email protected]

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