Crossing Cambodia

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

On track?

A follow up to the recent article on Cambodia's rail network from the Phnom Penh Post (Phnom Penh Post, Issue 15 / 16, August 11 - 24, 2006. Lot's of work to do, maybe it's cheaper to roll out a total new system?
Decrepit railways' rehabilitation on track

By Cheang Sokha

The dilapidated railways network connecting Phnom Penh to Sisophon and Sihanoukville will be repaired in early 2007, a senior railway official has told the Post.

Sokhom Pheakavanmony, general director of Cambodian Railways, said that the two rail lines will begin to be rehabilitated next year and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) will provide loans for the project - including the long-destroyed 48 km from Sisophon to Poipet town at the Thai border.

"It's time to repair the railways. If not, the train system will die - you can see trains derailing every week" said Yin Bunna, director of the railway rehabilitation project for the Ministry of Public Works and Transport (MPWT). "If we receive money to repair on time, we can save the life of the Cambodian railway."

Bunna said the renovation may take roughly three years because the tracks are in serious disrepair.

The project, devised by a joint working group of Cambodian and ADB specialists, will cost approximately $67 million, including over $10 million for the 48 km from Sisophon to Poipet.

Peter Broch, ADB transport project economist in Manila, said the ADB has not approved a loan yet, but the proposed project will be presented for approval by the ADB's board in November. If approved, the loan will be concessionaire, financed by ADB's Asian Development Fund.

"We are currently preparing the feasibility study for the railway project," Broch said, "We expect to finish rehabilitation of the railway by the end of 2009, and we will ensure that the railway track is safe."

Broch said the ADB will provide a $42 million loan for the repair of the railway. However, many people have settled on the railway's land around Poipet and need to be relocated to enable reconstruction of the railway connection to Thailand.

"With this amount of money the train speed will run up to 50 km per hour," Bunna said.

The Secretary of State for the MPWT, Uk Chan, said the government will contribute 10 percent of the overall budget for the railway project.

"Most of the tracks, wooden supports and screws need to be changed," Chan said, "About 60 percent of all construction equipment is imported from Thailand. So, if we can transport this freight by train, it will save the roads from the damage of overloaded trucks."

Chan said 70 percent of Cambodian railway lines will need to be replaced. Most of the wooden supports, or sleepers, are at least 80 years old and have never been maintained or replaced.

On July 25, a train from Sihanoukville on the southern line derailed in Kampot province, spilling tons of fuel belonging to tycoon Sok Kong of Sokimex. A day later, a train from Sisophon on the northern line also derailed and overturned two freight cars of cement. No one was injured in the accidents, authorities reported.

The 385 km railroad from Sisophon, the provincial capital of Banteay Meanchey, to Phnom Penh was built between 1929 and 1941, and the 264km from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville between 1960 and 1969.

Bunna said many wooden sleepers are broken and many metal spikes have been stolen.

Suy San, general inspector at MPWT, said the Malaysian government has donated metal ties for the 48 km railroad from Sisophon to Poipet, which was destroyed during the Khmer Rouge time.

"We have to fix our railroad because it runs very slowly, only 17 km per hour," said San. "Travelers are fearful of traveling by train because it is slow and they think it's not secure. The train transports only private goods at the moment."

The government is also seeking $480 million for building part of a new ASEAN railroad from Kunming, China, to Loc Ninh, Vietnam. Cambodia's 255 km missing link would be from Bak Deung in Kampong Chhnang province through Phnom Penh to Snuol in Kampong Cham province and from there to Loc Ninh.

"The government has asked China for funding for the railroad and they promised to support the project," Pheakavanmony said, "Now we are waiting for the Cambodian and Vietnam partners to demarcate the border."

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