Cambodia // Phnom Penh and around //

Getting back on track

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There are currently no passenger trains in Cambodia, but work is in progress to change that. The French introduced train travel to the country in the 1930s, building a line that ran between Phnom Penh and Battambang and all the way up to the Thai border at Poipet. In the 1960s a line was built down to Sihanoukville with funds from France, China and West Germany. But the Khmer Rouge’s lust for destruction extended to the travel infrastructure, and when the service resumed after the civil war, trains were forced to run with an empty flatbed carriage in front that would activate any mines planted by the Khmer Rouge the night before, a practice that continued well into the 1990s. Years of neglect led to disrepair and degradation. The service to Sihanoukville ended, and the trains between Poipet and Battambang dried up completely. The daily service between Battambang and Phnom Penh finally ground to a halt in 2009.

The Australian rail company, Toll Holdings, began a massive reconstruction programme on the track between Phnom Penh and Kampot in June 2009. The track was reopened for freight transport in October 2010, the first phase of a $141-million project that will one day connect Cambodia with Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia. Lines should be running south as far as Sihanoukville and its port, and a northern line resuming the Phnom Penh–Battambang–Poipet link soon. Once freight is being transported safely along these routes, there are high hopes for the service to be made public, although this will take a few years yet.

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