A feasibility study is underway on a proposed project to convert the Southern Railway Line that links Phnom Penh with Preah Sihanouk province into high-speed rail to better handle the growing demand for passenger and freight transit, according to Minister of Public Works and Transport Sun Chanthol.

This follows the conclusion of a similar study on the Northern Railway Line, which connects the capital with Banteay Meanchey province’s Poipet town and the Thai border, the minister noted at a public event last week at the AEON MALL Mean Chey, which is also known as AEON 3.

He mentioned preliminary plans for both upgraded lines to allow for speeds of 160km/h, noting that trains on the Southern Railway Line are currently able to viably run at 30-40km/h with top speeds of 80km/h.

Preliminary results of the Northern Railway Line’s feasibility study suggest that the project would cost more than $4 billion and take around four years to complete.

The study was carried out by Chinese state-owned China Road and Bridge Corp (CRBC), the company behind the Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville Expressway – the Kingdom’s first high-speed thoroughfare, which opened on October 1, 2022 and was formally inaugurated exactly one month later.

The long-term plan for the 386km-long northern line includes 33 passenger or freight stations, 19 of which will be built initially, as well as more than 300 additional overpasses to avoid car-train conflicts, as part of the high-speed conversion project, which will cover 382km or 99 per cent of the railway.

Cambodia Logistics Association president Sin Chanthy sees the potential of both railways as essential corporate travel options, as well as drivers of decreased logistical costs and the Kingdom’s ability to compete internationally.

The high-speed upgrades will boost passenger numbers and the volume of cross-border trade in goods, he said.

“This will increase the competitiveness of the manufacturing sector and boost economic growth in addition to cutting transportation expenses,” according to Chanthy.

According to the transport ministry, construction of the Cambodian railway system began in the late 1920s, with the northern and southern line, the former of which was built between 1929 and 1942, during the period of French colonial rule.

The 264km-long 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.

The Democratic Kampuchea (Khmer Rouge) regime badly damaged both railway lines, with some sections being entirely destroyed. But thanks to cooperation between the ministry and Royal Railway Co Ltd, they were later rebuilt and restored.