Construction on high-speed rails in the Kingdom could begin as soon as next year, with studies well underway on the conversion of existing railway and the creation of two new lines – one of which runs to the Vietnamese border – to optimally boost rail passenger and freight transport as well as cross-border trade and tourism, according to Minister of Public Works and Transport Sun Chanthol.

The minister last week confirmed that studies on the existing Poipet-Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville railway are “nearing completion” while those on the new Poipet-Siem Reap-Kampong Thom-Kampong Chhnang-Phnom Penh and Phnom Penh-Bavet lines are underway, noting that the latter is planned to link with Ho Chi Minh City via Moc Bai.

He suggested that the Poipet-Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville high-speed rail could break ground as early as next year after the general elections – which are set for July 23 – but that construction of the new lines may take longer to get started, particularly on the Phnom Penh-Bavet route.

Chanthol maintained that a route linking the capital to Svay Rieng province’s Bavet town would be “useless” without an ongoing connection through to Ho Chi Minh City.

“We have to wait for Vietnam.”

An interconnected infrastructure system along with affordable and efficient transportation and logistics services are crucial to grow the economy as well as to encourage investors and businesspeople to choose Cambodia, he opined.

“Although our infrastructure system is improving, we’ll keep making advancements to attract more investments into the country.”

At a December 23 event, Prime Minister Hun Sen mentioned that high-speed rail would better connect the Kingdom internally and with its neighbours, and confirmed that the existing railway is earmarked for a conversion.

“We’re studying high-speed rail links from Phnom Penh to Preah Sihanouk [province] and to [Poipet along] the Thai border,” he said.

Cambodia Logistics Association (CLA) president Sin Chanthy told The Post that upgrading the railway could provide a competitive option for passenger and freight transport that is straightforward, affordable, and generally free from congestion.

“As Cambodia modernises its railways, we’ll significantly benefit from the ensuing economic growth, as transportation costs drop and the manufacturing sector’s competitiveness improves,” he said.

High-speed rail could become a major link with bordering countries and promote passenger and freight transport, Chanthy said, adding: “It’ll not only promote trade with our neighbours, but also attract investment and tourism inflows.”

Construction of the Cambodian railway system began in the late 1920s, with the northern and southern line, according to the transport ministry.

The 386km-long northern line from Phnom Penh to Poipet, which is on the Cambodia-Thailand border, was built between 1929 and 1942, during the period of French colonial rule.

The southern railway was built from 1960 to 1969, during the Sangkum Reastr Niyum era, under the leadership of the late King Norodom Sihanouk and with assistance from France, West Germany and China, and spans a total of 264km.

Both railway lines were severely damaged – with some parts completely destroyed – during the Democratic Kampuchea regime, after which they were rebuilt and rehabilitated through collaboration between the transport ministry and Royal Railway Co Ltd.