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First buses, now trains could come to capital

First buses, now trains could come to capital

As part part of its multibillion-dollar Urban Transport Master Plan, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) unveiled a modern rail system for Phnom Penh yesterday that could begin operation as soon as 2023.

The trains would thin out traffic on the capital’s choked-up roads, which currently lack any sort of public transport save a lone bus line along Monivong Boulevard – though more lines are planned.

“Without trains, this city will become like Jakarta,” Masato Koto, the master plan’s project leader, told the Post, in a reference to the Indonesian capital’s notorious traffic jams.

The first part of the proposed rail system would run in an east-west loop from the airport to the city centre, with the route likely to cost a total of $1.35 billion, according to the project’s own assessment.

The loop would carry about 72,500 to 81,600 passengers a day on partially underground and elevated railways, and would connect the city’s downtown to the “western fringe area where urbanisation is in progress”, according to the project’s handbook.

The Master Plan proposes a network of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), rail and freight routes estimated to cost $4.5 billion over 20 years – a massive sum that would be raised through donors, the city government and the private sector.

Raising such a big figure would likely require participation from private companies, although inviting them to the table is a “very, very delicate” process, JICA deputy chief Takashi Ito said.

While the project’s high ambition is only rivalled by its price tag, its actual implementation is another issue entirely.

Asked if he was confident the proposal would be approved by the government, Ito said it was “quite difficult to create a consensus among stakeholders”.

If passed, one significant concern would be the fate of people potentially displaced.

Phnom Penh City Council Deputy Governor Trak Thai Seang said that people forced to move, such as those “selling sugarcane” on the road, would be better off. “For the affected peoples, we will prepare schools, hospitals; it will be more peaceful.”

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