As regularly scheduled freight service between Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville started last Saturday, Toll Royal Railway’s Chief Operating Officer John Guiry has returned to Cambodia to join his old friend and colleague, CEO David Kerr.
Both Australians previously worked together on getting Cambodia’s locomotives and wagons back in action until delays in track rehabilitation sent them both back to Australia last year.
While Kerr returned sooner, Guiry is now his right-hand man once again. Both Kerr and Guiry are career railway men and both veterans of the Victorian Railways. Not only is Guiry Kerr’s former boss, but they also lived on the same street three houses apart in Australia.
Kerr returned to Cambodia when he learned that track rehabilitation to Sihanoukville would be completed by Christmas.
“The customers here in Cambodia were all clapping their hands when they found out John was coming back,” Kerr said on Saturday.
The Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville rail freight service offers three containerised services a week, as well as bagged cement, bulk coal, bulk cassava and tapioca heading for Sihanoukville.
“The cassava and tapioca are exported for ethanol production in China,” Kerr said.
Kerr says Toll Royal Railway will soon enable freight forwarders to clear customs in Phnom Penh, thanks to a temporary container storage facility now in the works, owing to strong support from Cambodia’s Customs and Excise Department.
“This will be a significant step forward in the competitiveness of fright for Cambodia,” he said.
The start-up of the Sihanoukville service as well as the Northern Line’s Battambang service in the coming months marks a shift from rehabilitation work to operational work for Cambodia’s railways.
“Before we had been capacity-building for our employees, establishing a new safe working system, with a significant investment in employee training, rehabilitating locomotives and wagons and establishing the workshops for maintenance and repairs.This is a significant milestone because it’s a competitive alternative to road transport,” Kerr said.
Toll Royal Railway’s northern line is ready to commence services from Phnom Penh to the junction and freight transshipment center at Bat Doeng.
“This allows for the distribution to Kampong Cham and Kampong Chenang.”
One important freight customer is the Siam Cement Group factory near Touk Meas, 118 kilometres south of Phnom Penh. Kerr said the bagged cement is hauled both ways along the railway; south to Sihanoukville and north to Phnom Penh.
Kerr says 2,500 to 3,000 tonne shipments will move both ways out of Touk Meas.
Also coming into operation are special tanks for the bulk transport of cement.
“They lift the tanks off the train onto the trucks and you can stack them like containers,” Kerr said.
Guiry said every Saturday morning 560 trucks arrive at the Port of Sihanoukville, creating a struggling bottleneck: something the train service will relieve.
“What the railway does is reduce a lot of that congestion,” Guiry said.
Kerr says in addition to garment factory products and machinery, the train carries a lot of rice, and much more to come in the future.
“We’re talking to the rice millers, and they are leaving export containers of rice behind because they don’t have enough road transport capacity. We’re in discussions with people at the moment about buying locomotives and wagons,” he said.
The railway service between Phnom Penh and Battambang is seen as key to the achievement of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s vision of a million tons of rice exports by 2015, enabling low-cost service between the Battambang-area rice basket of Cambodia and the Mekong River, which moves the rice quickly to the South China Sea and global bulk purchasers.
Toll Royal Railway employs 124 people and is now in the process of recruiting additional staff for the requirements of the northern line. Kerr says the Cambodian government has every right to be proud that Toll Royal Railway is the only railway concession in the world to achieve ISO accreditation.
“The Cambodian government initiated the railway concession and they have a reason to be proud of their accomplishment,” Kerr said.
To show that the Northern Line to Battambang would be operational in the coming months, Kerr and Guiry hosted Cambodia’s Railways Department Director Uon Song and Ministry of Public Transport and Works (MPWT) for a trolley trip from Battambang to Bat Doeng, all along the Northern Line two weeks ago.
Also on the trip were Eric Sidwick and Peter Brimble from the Asian Development Bank as well as Michelle Bizzard from Ausaid.
Guiry says low speed lines will be able to operate to Battambang in a soon as the next three or four months, once some bridge timbers are added and other track improvements are completed.
Both Kerr and Guiry say they’re proud of Toll Royal’s safety record, with zero incidents so far attributable to Toll Royal. They advocate an approach that includes the compulsory use of all types of safety equipment, which they say is well embraced by the Cambodian staff.
“We’ve been operating for 3.5 years with no lost time and our increased safety approach is reflected in excellent key performance indicators and really does put us in the world’s best practices,” Kerr said.
All Toll Royal Railway employees have licenses for their cars, and all of them have citizen’s cards.
Kerr comes from Hamilton, Victoria, and started working for Victorian Railways at the age of 17, washing locomotives. He later served as a computer simulator instructor before becoming Regional Manager of the National Railway Network at Alice Springs, followed by a stint as National Crewing Manager in Adelaide. He also ran the railway network during the Sydney 2000 Olympics.
He later started Patrick Portlink with Chris Corrigan, of Banker’s Trust; worked in Kenya and Uganda as COO for Rift Valley Railways for 18 months before starting Qube Logistics, also for Chris Corrigan, which became the second-largest railway company in Australia.
Kerr was recruited for Toll after that.
“Toll contacted three recruiting companies and all three contacted me for the position,” Kerr said.
COO Guiry was born in London and lived in Singapore, Rhodesia, Botswana and Australia. His first railway job, like Kerr’s, was at Victorian Railways, for 35 years, working up to Station Master, train control and was the youngest-ever person in track control.
After working in 11 control rooms in 3.5 years, Guiry became a regional manager, and operations manager, Dynon Train Crew Manager and ended up as Group General Manager Operations for V Line Freight, which became Freight Australia and ran 1,498 trains per week.
After his company was bought by Pacific National, Guiry was headhunted to work for a grain company and then got a call from his old friend David Kerr, who said “do you want a challenge?”, and that’s how he came to Cambodia.
To contact the reporter on this story: Stuart Alan Becker at [email protected]