For the first time since a railway rehabilitation project was launched in 2006, Cambodian rice is now being transported from Phnom Penh to the Sihanoukville port along the country’s southern line for export, operators Toll said on Wednesday.
Speaking at the Phnom Penh cargo loading station, a dry port in Dangkor district on the outskirts of the city, chief executive of Toll Royal Railway David Kerr said the move was a significant step towards strengthening Cambodia’s export capacity.
“It is another chapter in Toll Royal Railway with the continued movement of the export of container rice by train,” Kerr said.
“As soon as we have a customs officer here [in the dry port], many transporting procedures will improve.”
Kerr said that the haul, the third this month, left the dry port carrying 100 containers with 2,400 tonnes of rice. Rice, according to Kerr, is just the beginning, and he expects garment and footwear exports to follow.
Toll began operations in 2010 transporting cement from Kampot to Phnom Penh.
The 256-kilometre southern line, linking Phnom Penh with the Sihanoukville port, opened in December last year, though services were limited.
The 337-kilometre northern line, connecting Phnom Penh with Poipet on the Thai border, is expected to be opened in several stages between next year and 2015.
Rice exporters, however, are not yet ready to jump on board with the new mode of transport. They believe that rail cargo has its benefits, but for now there are logistical procedures that need work to make it cost-effective.
Kim Savuth, managing director of rice exporting company Khmer Food, explained that trucks were still required to haul rice to meet the train at Phnom Penh’s dry port, and then again to meet the train at Sihanoukville to ferry rice through customs before leaving Cambodia.
“It is a bit complicated and it makes the cost of transportation higher,” Savuth said. “If they had a [customs] scanner at the dry port, the complicated process will be reduced.”
“We want to use the train transport system and will do it when the process is easier,” said Song Saran, chief executive at Amru Rice Cambodia, echoing industry sentiments.
Tith Som Oeun, spokesman for the Toll Royal Railway, agrees that some rice exporters would consider the customs scanning process a barrier.
“Soon, this issue will be solved for our customers,” Som Oeun said.
The Cambodian railway project has had problems with cost over-runs as well as the displacement and relocation of families living along the line’s route.
The government has been working with project partners the Asian Development Bank and AusAid to address these long-standing issues.
The 2,400 tonnes that left the port this week is minuscule when compared to the 31,000 tonnes that Cambodia exported in July. The shipments travelled by truck to ports in Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville.