Passenger trains are set to roll between the capital and the coast next month for the first time in 14 years, a railway official said yesterday.
Sam Oeun Tith, commercial manager of Royal Railway, which holds a 30-year concession to operate the country’s railways, said the company plans to run passenger trains along the 266-kilometer “Southern Line” from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville starting in April.
“We hope it will be the start of a new history after not having passenger trains for many years,” he said. “We plan to run a passenger-only train before Khmer New Year [April 13-16]. The [timing] was selected to reduce road traffic during the holiday and reduce traffic accidents.”
Oeun Tith said passenger trains operating on this route would carry about 400 people in five carriages divided by class, with regular carriages cooled by fans and plush VIP carriages offering air-conditioning.
The journey will take around eight hours averaging 33 km/h, with ticket prices yet to be determined – though he insists the company is aiming to make it “cheaper than the bus service.”
Passenger train service between Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville was suspended in 2002 after years of operating losses that saw both the rail line and its equipment fall into disrepair.
Freight traffic on the line ceased shortly after.
The Southern Line reopened to commercial traffic in 2013 after extensive rehabilitation. It is currently used to transport fuel, coal, cement and container shipments, according to Royal Railway.
Oeun Tith said in addition to launching regular passenger trains in April, the company also intends to offer a private charter service.
“The company has plans to provide a service for clients to rent the train for private tours to enjoy the scenery along the way to Sihanoukville,” he said, adding that pricing would be disclosed soon.
Ang Kim Eang, president of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents, said the resumption of passenger rail service would give domestic and foreign travellers an alternative to the 3-4 hour road trip on National Road 4.
“The road to Sihanoukville is busy and damaged,” he said. “If we have passenger train service, it will be a good option. We are ready to promote it and sell tour packages.”
While Kim Eang said eight hours was a long trip, he was confident travellers seeking a new experience would use the rail service.
“We’ve waited a very long time to provide more transport options for travellers,” he said. “In Europe and China, trains attract a lot of attention from tourists. Even if ours is slower [than buses,] it will attract people.”