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Villagers protest new commuter rail project

An official drives past a tyre that was set alight yesterday by residents of Phnom Penh's Por Sen Chey district who protested to express anger about being left in the dark about a new railway project.
An official drives past a tyre that was set alight yesterday by residents of Phnom Penh's Por Sen Chey district who protested to express anger about being left in the dark about a new railway project. Pha Lina

Villagers protest new commuter rail project

Phnom Penh City Hall yesterday called a temporary halt to the construction of a commuter rail service connecting the central railway station to the airport after residents living along the small road upon which the tracks were being laid burned tyres to protest not being notified about the project.

Por Sen Chey district authorities had been told to hold a public forum with the community living along Street 105K – a thin road that runs toward Russian Boulevard – before allowing the construction to continue, according to municipal spokesman Met Measpheakdey.

Among the roughly 100 residents who protested yesterday was Nov Sopheap, a villager in Kakab commune. She said the residents were angry that Royal Railways had already begun installing a stretch of rail despite no one being notified about the project, or its potential impact on their properties.

“I am happy to see the development, but I want to see development that doesn’t affect the people living in the area,” Sopheap said, adding that officials should have met residents before allowing the project to reach the construction stage.

Lok Lun, the chief of the commune’s Ov Lek II village, said he only became aware of the project on Saturday when he received a letter from the company informing him of the work that had begun. He estimated 100 families could be impacted by the project, and said none had been notified.

“People keep asking me,” Lun said of the track laying over the past weeks. “I just responded that I do not know.”

Kakab Commune Chief Khoem Chanvanak speaks to the press yesterday about the community’s concerns over commuter rail service plans.
Kakab Commune Chief Khoem Chanvanak speaks to the press yesterday about the community’s concerns over commuter rail service plans. Pha Lina

Royal Railways has a 30-year concession to operate Cambodia’s railway network, and it earlier this year completed its feasibility study into the airport rail link. It had begun laying the first stretch of rail leaving the airport six weeks ago, said John Guiry, the company’s chief executive officer.

About 260 metres of the total 1,250 metres of track that will run down the middle of Street 105K has already been installed, Guiry said. He also acknowledged that information about the project had not been communicated effectively to the local community before construction began.

“Unfortunately, it looks like some information wasn’t passed on from one to another,” Guiry said, explaining that he had personally met with local residents and business owners yesterday and assured them they had nothing to worry about.

The airport link could be up and running by April next year, with three trains running 24 hours a day, he said.

Taing Kosang Primary School Principal Chhay Sokha said the first she heard about the project was at yesterday’s protest.

She said she accepted the rail would be laid but asked for more transparency and for measures to ensure the school children do not face danger. “Why was this project not discussed with anyone?” Sokha said. “It was so secretive.”

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