A long section of a Phnom Penh-bound freight train, travelling the same line only recently reopened for passenger service to Sihanoukville, derailed early yesterday morning in Kandal province’s Kandal Stung district, prompting experts to call for increased regulation and monitoring of the rail system.
The incident occurred at 5am when the mid-section of a Royal Railways freight train – comprised entirely of empty flatbed cars – came off the rails as it passed a crossing in Tbeng commune.
No one, including the driver, was reported injured. Pictures posted by Kandal provincial police on Facebook, show some of the flatbed rail cars strewn along the embankment of the raised rails, with workers working on a section of the track in the aftermath of the incident.
Answers were in short supply immediately following the derailment. John Guiry, CEO at Royal Railways, confirmed the incident but would not speak to the reason for the accident, saying the company was still looking into the matter. “We are still investigating it. The rail was not missing,” he said, without ruling out possible other causes.
Lay Bun Tek, of the Ministry of Transportation’s railway department, said he could not comment on the incident as he was unaware of the details, despite being called about 11 hours after the incident.
Royal Railways is the only concessionaire for Cambodia’s southern line from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville, running freight trains carrying coal, petroleum and rocks. Since successfully conducting a trial over Khmer New Year, Royal now also runs passenger services on the same line Friday to Saturday and on major holidays.
Guiry refused to speculate as to whether a similar incident could have occurred with one of the company’s passenger trains, only adding that the rail line had been fixed and “it was business as usual”.
Indeed, within hours, trains were once again operating normally on the sole track linking the two cities, he said. Tbeng commune police chief But Sokunthea said a Royal Railway staffer had told him that the tracks buckled because of loose soil at the crossing.
“The front of the train passed okay, but when the middle section passed, it fell down,” Sokunthea said. Yesterday’s derailment was not the first incident on the line, which has seen a handful of accidents involving collisions with vehicles. In June, a cement truck collided with a train in Kampot province, while two trucks ran into the same train in separate incidents in September.
Ho Vandy, secretary-general for Cambodia’s National Tourism Alliance, yesterday said it was fortunate the accident had not involved a passenger train or it could have seriously dented confidence in the newly launched service.
He added that the three involved parties – the Ministry of Transportation, Royal Railways and local authorities – must ensure safety standards if they hope to continue to attract tourists.
“This bad news can affect future operations,” he said. “We need to see more strengthening of safety and security for passengers. ”Ear Chariya, president of the Road Safety Institute, said the government had created the National Road Safety Committee given the high number of road accidents in the country, but had paid little attention to other forms of transport.
“The lack of a [single national] body to regulate train, water and air transport is because there are few accidents now,” he said. “But if we don’t do it, it will be a challenge to do it in the future.”