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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Rail network repairs on track

Rail network repairs on track

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A bicyclist and passenger ride past cargo wagons Thursday outside of Phnom Penh station. Renovation of Cambodia’s dilapidated rail network should be finished on target, the companies responsible said.

However, railways official admits that construction of the section linking Cambodia to Vietnam as part of the Trans-Asia Railway is still 'years away'

There were issues related to relocating people who lived along the tracks.

WORK to repair the country’s decrepit rail network is on track, but construction of the vital Cambodian segment of a planned trans-Asia network is “years away” from beginning, a senior official said Thursday.

Sok Naty, secretary of the Railway Construction Committee, the Royal Railways of Cambodia unit in charge of building the country’s rail network, said a southern line linking Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville was expected to be completed next year.

A northern line from Phnom Penh to Poipet would be operational by 2012 or 2013, he said. However, a China Railway Group feasibility study into a 255-kilometre line from near Phnom Penh to the Vietnamese border had still not been completed. The line is the missing section of the Kunming-Singapore track in a planned Trans-Asia Railway (TAR) linking 28 countries in Asia and Europe.

“We can’t predict today when the Chinese will finish their study, but we hope it will be completed next year so we can determine if the project will be feasible,” Sok Naty said.

He declined to give a start date for construction of the line, but said it was more likely to be “years away” than months. Vietnam completed a feasibility study in September to create a US$438 million line from Ho Chi Minh City to the Cambodian border and plans to begin construction on the four-year project soon, according to press reports.

A Preliminary Technical Study Report seen by the Post in August noted that the proposed line is likely to face a series of cost hurdles that will require additional funding. These include a 1,000-metre bridge crossing of the Mekong River and a 1,500-metre bridge over the Tonle Sap, which would cost a combined $262 million. A government source said that at least $120 million would also have to be spent on smaller bridges along the line.

Repairs of the northern and southern lines are being funded to the tune of $142 million by a group of international contributors, in the form of grants and a long-term low-interest loan. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) contributed $89.9 million, while the remainder came from investments by the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID) and the governments of Australia, Cambodia and Malaysia.

Toll Holdings of Australia has an agreement to take over the operation of the two routes when repair work is completed.

Cambodia expects to begin rebuilding 48 kilometres of track in Poipet province in November and complete it early next year as part of the northern line, said ADB Cambodia spokesperson Chantha Kim Thursday. “There were issues related to relocating people who lived along the tracks that were being addressed by the government,” he said. “Mine clearance was also a problem.”

Sok Naty said that when the lines were completed, the first priority would be to start moving goods. “We will concentrate on freight trains, but the first thing we need to do is finish the repairs.”

Restarting passenger services would require working with different contractors, he added.

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