CAMBODIA: The reopening of a further 69 km of main line railway was celebrated on April 29 when an inaugural train ran from Sisophon to Battambang carrying Transport Minister Sun Chanthol.

The reopening of this section of the country’s northern main line between Phnom Penh and the Thai border marks a further step in the revival of the country’s railway, following the opening of the 48 km Poipet – Sisophon section on April 4. The 386 km line connecting Phnom Penh to the Thai rail network was completed in 1942, but damaged by fighting in the early 1970s. In 2009 the Asian Development Bank and the Cambodian government agreed to fund reinstatement, and work was launched with a groundbreaking ceremony in Poipet on July 25 2014. However, while this partnership helped to rebuild the southern main line between Phnom Penh and the port of Sihanoukville which reopened in 2011, the northern line has been a more challenging project, with land acquisition and resettlement of residents causing particular problems. As a result, the reinstatement of the northern line is now being funded solely by the Cambodian government at an estimated cost of US$200m.

‘The track from Battambang to Pursat will be ready by the end of May’, predicted John Guiry, Chief Executive of operating concessionaire Royal Railway Co. The government has set a goal of completing rehabilitation of the Poipet – Phnom Penh line by the end of June, Chanthol added.

Guiry noted that while the Sisophon - Battambang section has five formal level crossings, there are as many as 60 unofficial crossing points, warning that line speeds are unlikely to exceed 30 km/h in the short term.

Planners are optimistic about the prospects for cross-border trains into Thailand using the railway between Arayaprathet station in Thailand and Poipet which was completed earlier this year. A temporary facility for customs, quarantine and immigration checks has reportedly been built in Poipet. However, a formal railway operating agreement between the two countries has yet to be finalised.