Beijing has pledged to support the construction of a US$600 million railway between Phnom Penh and Vietnam – one of four “missing links” on a 5,382-kilometre pan-Asia track between Singapore and Kunming in southern China.
The People’s Republic is funding a feasibility study on the missing Phnom Penh-to-Vietnam stretch.
Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong said Prime Minister Hun Sen met Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao on the sidelines of the 17th Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit, held in Hanoi last week, to discuss its funding.
“Samdech [Hun Sen] requested China to help build a railway from Phnom Penh to Vietnam, which is 257 kilometres [long] and costs $600 million,” the minister said at Phnom Penh International Airport.
“China affirmed to do whatever it can to speed up railway construction.
“We hope there will be construction on the railway in the year to come.”
The economic benefits of linking Cambodia and Vietnam will be profound, according to officials.
“The construction of this railway will not only benefit Cambodia, but also ASEAN members particularly Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos,” Hor Namhong said. “It will support a massive flow of trade and tourists for the benefit for all.”
The link – thought to cover the line between Phnom Penh and Loc Ninh, Vietnam – is one of four identified by ASEAN as necessary for completion before the Singapore to Kunming Rail Link can open.
In a master plan on ASEAN Connectivity, released by the association on Friday in Hanoi, the regional community decided to “prioritise” rail lines through Cambodia in a bid to complete the SKRL by 2015.
The plan identifies the “missing links”: a 6-kilometre stretch in Thailand near the town of Aranyaprathet, close to the Kingdom’s border, to be completed in 2014; the 48-kilometre link between Poipet and Sisophon in Cambodia, to be finished by 2013; and the Phnom Penh-to-Loc Ninh line, which is expected to be operational by 2015.
Construction on a fourth link – the 129-kilometre stretch between Loc Ninh, near the border with Cambodia, and Ho Chi Minh City – is scheduled for completion by 2020, according to the ASEAN plan.
The plan did not discuss the Phnom Penh-to-Sisophon stretch of Cambodia’s Northern Line, which is part of the proposed SKRL route and is presently being rehabilitated.
It is earmarked to open in the next two years, according to the Asian Development Bank, which is providing loans to fund its restoration.
Toll Royal Railways, a joint venture by Australia’s Toll Group and Cambodian conglomerate The Royal Group, has been given a 30-year concession to run the Kingdom’s railways – but not with the proposed link to Vietnam.
However, at the launch of the restored railway between Phnom Penh and Kampot last month, Toll officials expressed hopes for future concessions.
“In time, we would like to think we can gain the confidence of the Cambodian government [to secure the concession for the link to Vietnam],” said Wayne Hunt, chief executive officer of Toll Global Logistics.
Ministry of Public Works and Transportation undersecretary of state Yit Bunna, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong, and Chinese embassy staff could not be reached for comment. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JEREMY MULLINS