After the announcement made by Prime Minister Hun Sen on January 5 which tentatively approved an expressway from the Phnom Penh International Airport to the city centre, residents living beside the existing railway have become concerned as concrete details remain elusive.
The alleged project will be 19 metres wide and 13-kilometre long, running either beside or above the existing railway tracks.
On January 11, more than 150 people living along the railway line gathered at the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation, demanding information about the plan after claiming there was no public consultation.
Still, up until now, specifications of the project have yet to be revealed to the railroad residents as well as to the local authorities.
City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche was unable to provide details when contacted on Tuesday evening, saying that City Hall has yet to receive official guidelines from the Prime Minister.
“We will only seek project development partners after receiving permission from the head of the government,” he said.
Nevertheless, since Hun Sen’s announcement, bids to develop the project have come pouring in from both local and foreign companies Dimanche said, adding that City Hall is currently reviewing the profiles of the companies.
“We cannot confirm yet whether it will be a sky, land, or underground road as we are in the process of examining each submitted developer’s application,” he said.
Residents living beside the railway worry that without knowing details of the project, they will face forced eviction, regardless of what the final plan is.
Meas Mon, 67, whose house is about six metres away from the railway, claimed that he has lived there since 1979 and has never received a land title. Until this past Monday, he was unaware of the proposed expressway until the village chief informed him.
Teng Nita, a home-maker living further down the line near Toul Kork, said “I do not want to leave this area because it is near my children’s school, and near the market, and I can still earn money easily from home,” she said.
Nevertheless, she welcomed the development, providing that she is properly compensated for the loss and damage her home will inevitably undergo.
Raksmey Annie, a salon owner who also owns a house in the southern side of the railway, explained that his family had purchased an 80 square metre house in 2000 and had spent thousands of dollars in renovations.
“If they really build a 19 metre wide sky bridge or widen the roads by 10 metres, I will lose four metres of land,” he said.
“The government should provide compensation that correlates with the market price or with the size of the damage that has been incurred upon affected residents, and only then will there be no problems,” she said.
Hang Sokun, community manager for Equitable Cambodia, has long witnessed the impacts developments have on communities living in Phnom Penh.
“Based on my experience, development projects usually affect residents who are unsatisfied with solutions or compensations from the government,” Sokun said, adding that most people want an agreeable trade or a sustainable development, instead of monetary compensation.
“According to initial data from [my] organisation, there are at least 1,200 families living along the whole railroad, whose livelihoods can be impacted by the expressway project. If this project does not provide a suitable solution, there will come about many future problems,” he explained.
Worse still, he continued, would be for the residents who had been previously evicted from Boeung Kak Lake and who have settled along this railroad – fearing that history will repeat itself.
Dimanche stated that for those living along the railway, there is little legal protection afforded.
“As far as I know, a sub-decree states that there will be 30 metres of land left untouched on each side of the rail, meaning that residents living less than 30 metres away from the rail tracks may not receive land ownership titles from the authority,” he said.