Railway freight services between Phnom Penh and Touk Meas commune, in Kampot province’s Banteay Meas district, the location of a Siam Cement factory about 40 kilometres north of Kampot town, began yesterday, finally putting the Toll Royal Railways concession on an earning basis.
According to Toll Royal Railways CEO David Kerr, the service will extend to Kampot town by the end of September and all the way to the Sihanoukville port by the end of this year.
Kerr said Siam Cement required a capacity of 1,000 tonnes of cement per week and that would increase over time to 2,000 tonnes per week. “We have the capacity to run several thousand tonnes per week,” Kerr said.
While he would not give prices for Toll Royal’s freight rates, Kerr said they were competitive with road trucking rates and that each train would take more than 50 trucks off the road. “Overloaded trucks accelerate depreciation of the roads,” he said. “The savings for government on road maintenance is significant.”
Kerr, who started work on the rehabilitation of train services in Cambodia in 2009 and has recently returned from Australia to resume his CEO position, said Toll Royal Railways had received ISO9000 accreditation as a commercial rail operator, the only such rail company in Asia to do so.
“We have a new train control system, new safe working systems, 15 locomotives, two from China and another 13 from France.”
He said the current freight volumes would not require additional rolling stock. Yesterday’s train to Touk Meas was 500 metres long and the locomotives are capable of running trains up to one kilometre long.
Train services began in October 2010, but with delays in track rehabilitation, train services had been suspended until yesterday, Kerr said. Other freight to be hauled along the line will include salt from Kampot and blocks of rice husks heading south from Phnom Penh for burning in the cement factory, instead of importing coal. The cement trains will run every two or three days, he said.
Service to Kampot is waiting for works to be completed on the Kampot viaduct and thence to Veal Rinh commune in Preah Sihanouk province’s Prey Nop district, about 50 kilometres south, followed by the remaining 50 kilometres to Sihanoukville. Work on track rehabilitation is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
The southern line between Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville has six “passing loops” which allow trains moving in opposite directions to get out of each other’s way.
“We’ll be able to offer container services to shipping lines, and we’ll be competitive with trucks. We can also transport and coal and gypsum from Sihanoukville up to the cement factory,” Kerr said. “To see trains up and running again is a fantastic result for consumers in Cambodia, for consumers and for shareholders.”
With regard to works on the Northern Line that connects Phnom Penh with Banteay Meanchey province’s Poipet commune in O’Chou district on the Thai border, Kerr said agreement had been reached this week between Cambodia and Thailand on the reconstruction of the missing six kilometres of railway tracks in Thailand and construction of the Thai-Cambodian border railway bridge.
“The 48 kilometres of missing link in Cambodia is almost completed from Poipet to Sisophon, with concrete sleepers that can take 20-tonne axle loads,” he said. The railway tracks between Phnom Penh and the Bat Doeng junction 32 kilometres north, the future junction of the proposed Vietnam line, have been rehabilitated to accommodate 15-tonne axle loads, according to Kerr.
“We did track inspections up there on Sunday. With some minor track repairs, it could be ready for slow-speed train operations in the next couple of months,” he said. “We will be in a position to start moving rice as soon as they give us the tracks. We have the locomotives and wagons. Our objective is as soon as the line is open, to run trains.”
While Toll Royal Railways is responsible for the operation and maintenance of the railway, the rehabilitation of the line is provided by a French company called TSO, which is contracted to Cambodia’s Ministry of Public Works, with financing provided by the Asian Development Bank, AusAID, the OPEC Fund of International Development, the Cambodian government and a grant from the Malaysian government.
Kerr, who also serves as director of the Greater Mekong Sub-region Business Forum, said feeder services would eventually spread Cambodia’s economic capability via Laem Chabang Port near Pattaya, Thailand, the new Phnom Penh River Port, and the port at Sihanoukville.
“There will be multiple freight outlets for Cambodia. The benefit is a connection with Thailand to serve Laem Chabang; a connection with Vietnam to serve Kai Mep, and a connection to Sihanoukville as well as feeder services through Asia," said Kerr.
"Toll is a global logistics player and we leverage off the strength of Kith Meng and the Royal Group which are a very strong local partner. I think that’s the strength of this concession.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Stuart Alan Becker at [email protected]