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Cambodia, Royal Railways rehabilitation

John Vink

The 602 Km long Cambodian railway system dates back from French colonial times and was built in 1905 to first link Phnom Penh with the Thai railway system in Poipet. The port of Sihanoukville was connected to the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh between 1960 and 1969 to avoid an excessive reliance on Ho Chi Minh Ville (then Saigon).
From the beginning of the war in the Indochina peninsula the tracks were of course a privileged military target. After the 1991 peace accords the train between Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville was regularly attacked by the Khmer Rouge. Travellers could use the first wagon for free as it would be the first and hopefully the only one to derail when the tracks were sabotaged.
The trains finally stopped operating in early 2009 as running them became both too hazardous, unreliable and expensive. That same year the Toll Holding company was awarded a contract to rehabilitate the tracks by 2013 at a projected cost of $143 million. The participation of the Asian Development Bank became controversial as about 1500 families who were living along (or on) the tracks were relocated with insufficient compensation.
In 2014 Toll Holding sold its stakes to the Royal Group. The Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville finally reopened in April 2016.
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