A major study is in the pipeline to evaluate the feasibility of building a new railway line through Cambodia linking Thailand and Vietnam, which aims to spruce up the domestic transportation system and enhance cross-border trade, according to Minister of Public Works and Transport Sun Chanthol.

The minister told reporters recently that the proposed route would connect Banteay Meanchey province’s Poipet town on the Thai border, Siem Reap, Kampong Thom, Kampong Chhnang, Phnom Penh, and Svay Rieng’s Bavet town on the Vietnamese frontier, with plans for onward trains to Ho Chi Minh City via Moc Bai.

Chanthol mentioned high-speed ambitions for this route back in December, although he did not provide a ballpark figure for the maximum speed at the time. However, at a late-June event, the minister brought up proposals to convert the existing Northern and Southern Railway Lines into high-speed rail, which he said would allow for speeds of up to 160km/h.

“[The new Poipet-Bavet] railway line aims to help the transportation sector become more diverse, support Cambodia’s socio-economic development, raise income levels and improve people’s quality of life,” he said, adding that the preliminary studies are underway and that financing is still needed for the undertaking.

Cambodia Logistics Association (CLA) president Sin Chanthy remarked that the new Poipet-Bavet line could be a key, more cost-effective transportation option that improves the Kingdom’s overall ability to compete on the global stage.

“Shipping goods via railroad may be a great alternative for us. If the government can get high-speed rail built – thus allowing us to move more goods for less money – this would lower shipping costs and boost competitiveness in the manufacturing industry,” he said.

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.