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PM urges ministry to upgrade nat’l railways

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A view of railway station in Phnom Penh last year. Heng Chivoan

PM urges ministry to upgrade nat’l railways

Prime Minister Hun Sen has urged the transport ministry to find ways to upgrade the existing railway to a high-speed system in order to improve logistics infrastructure and facilitate Cambodia’s rapid socio-economic expansion.

While presiding over the much-anticipated inauguration of 38 revamped roads in Siem Reap on April 4, the prime minister urged the Ministry of Public Works and Transport to consider finding a development partner to modernise the railway line to increase the speed of transportation, saying that the existing traditional rail system “does not respond” to the socio-economic development needs of Cambodia.

He lamented that the current railway infrastructure only allows for speeds of “only 20 or 30km/h” on the oldest line travelling between Phnom Penh and Poipet as well as the one between the capital and Preah Sihanouk, the site of one of the country’s main ports, and said it is failing to facilitate domestic shipping and connectivity to Cambodia’s neighbours.

“We are considering this issue and looking for a partner to build a high-speed railway system on the existing railway line. [Transport minister] Sun Chanthol was asked to consider and set up a project to find a partner to discuss this issue, because if we keep the railway as is, it will be impossible for the railway to keep up with the [socio-economic] situation” in Cambodia, he said.

The government is also considering several other infrastructure projects to “meet the needs” of Cambodians, such as a road connection project between Siem Reap and Battambang provinces spanning 70km, he said, adding that the government has been commissioning studies and seeking funding for its construction.

Transport ministry spokesperson Vasim Sorya said that the ministry had “strongly considered” modernising the Kingdom’s railway system, but has so far been unsuccessful in its search for a development partner, with those in preliminary discussions having failed to offer concrete plans on how to make the upgrade a reality.

He likened the importance of the railway infrastructure system in Cambodia to that of its airports, saying that he saw investment in the railways as being of similar value to that of airport projects such as those currently underway in Siem Reap and Kandal provinces. But he ultimately conceded that the transport ministry was focused on fulfilling existing contracts before continuing discussions on modernisation.

“Honestly, we have not yet reached any concrete agreement yet. The prime minister has talked about the railway, but the important thing is that we have yet to find an investment partner … We want Chinese companies to come and invest, but meanwhile, we will have to settle the contract with our private company [who has been commissioned] first,” he said.

Along with the Ministry of Economy and Finance, Sorya said the transport ministry is currently preparing a number of policies and recommendations to submit to the prime minister for review and approval before commissioning studies or engaging in any construction work.

Construction of the Cambodian railway system began in the 1930s, with the northern and southern line.

The 386km-long northern line from Phnom Penh to Poipet, 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.

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