Cambodia’s $4 billion high-speed rail floated

Torng Rotanak 26/January/2023 02:14

Key Takeaways

  • High-speed rail links capital with Thai border estimated to cost $4billion
  • The project study carried out by CRBC, the Chinese firm behind the $2-billion-worth Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville expressway
  • It will cover a span of 382-km long, with a maximum speed of 160 km per hour

“When it is built, the project will not only promote trade with our neighbors, but also attract investment and tourism inflows”  

The preliminary study for Phnom Penh-Poipet’s high-speed rail was presented to the Public Ministry on 23rd Monday, 2023.

Cambodia is planning to build its first high-speed railway linking the Kingdom’s capital to Banteay Meanchey’s provincial town Poipet that shares a border with Thailand. The project is aimed at modernizing the transportation sector, and boosting trade with neighboring countries.

The high-speed train project will be upgraded from the existing 385km-long northern line Phnom Penh-Poipet railway system, which was initially built in the late1920s. The study on the project is estimated to cost as much as $4billion, and it would take four years to complete.

Preliminary results of a feasibility study for the high-speed rail project were announced on Monday 23rd January during a meeting between the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, and the expert teams from China Road and Bridge Corporate (CRBC) that carried out the study last year January. The Chinese firm is also behinds the $2-billion-worth Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville expressway, which was officially inaugurated last year November.

The result showed that the high-speed rail will potentially cover a span of 382-km long, and it is estimated to cost approximately $4 billion, including electric locomotives and carriages, the Ministry announced after the meeting. This high-speed rail will have a width of 1.43 meters, with a maximum speed of 160 km per hour, and there will be a total of 33 stations and more than 300 overpasses along the route.

The high-speed railway, once it is built, will run across six provinces namely – Kandal, Kampong Chhnang, Pursat, Battambang, and Banteay Meanchey.

Pubic and Transport Minister Son Chanthol, who chaired the meeting, said the primary focus of this project will be on international travelers and freight services between Cambodia and Thailand as the two countries bilateral trade volume is set to hit $15 billion by 2025. He added that this mega infrastructure development could also improve the lives of people residing in places along the railway, as well as boost the country’s economic growth.

Samdech Prime Minister Hun Sen pushed for acceleration

The preliminary results were brought to light after Prime Minister Hun Sen called on the inter ministries – the Public and Transport Ministry working together with the Economic and Finance Ministry – to speed up the study of high-speed rail projects.

Prime Minister made his call during a plenary meeting of the Council of Ministers on January 13, and he wanted to see these studies to be ready as soon as possible.  The high-speed rail project is one of several projects, which Prime Minister Hun Sen said, he will discuss and seek support from the Chinese government during his visit to Beijing, which is scheduled for 10 February 2023.

What next after the preliminary result presentation toward the project becomes reality? 

Discussed and presented by CRBC over the preliminary result has brought some important keynotes, which Public and Transport Minister Sun Chanthol said he will convey key findings from the study to Minister of Economy and Finance Aun Pornmoniroth during an inter-ministry meeting on this January 30. According to Minister Chanthol, the meeting will discuss the possibility and terms of project execution, as well as seek further recommendations to ensure that the project is carefully and comprehensively examined. The minister, however, did not disclose when the project to commence construction, only noted that it will begin in the near future.

Private sector applauds the move

Vice-president of the Cambodia Chamber of Commerce (CCC) Lim Heng hailed the high-speed rail development as the government’s effort to push the country forward for economic growth. And the next step, he wanted to see the rail connection with neighboring countries like Lao, Vietnam, and Thailand.

“When it is built, our transportation will be scalable, and from there we are able to connect with our neighbor’s railways, therefore improving regional connectivity,” he was quoted as saying.

From the perspective of Cambodia Logistics Association (CLA) president Sin Chanthy, he was reported as saying that high-speed rail plays a crucial role when it comes to cost reduction for transportation. He said this project development is an opportunity for manufacturing competitiveness improvement.

He shared a similar sentiment with the Vice-president of CCC Lim Heng as saying, “there would not only promote trade with our neighbors but also attract investment and tourism inflows.”

Only two railways are being operation

Construction of the Cambodian railway system began in the late 1920s, with the northern and southern line.  Between 1929 and 1942, a 385-kilometer line was built linking Phnom Penh to the Thai border. The post-independence government of King Norodom Sihanouk in the 1960s connected the capital city with the ruler’s eponymous port town of Sihanoukville to the southwest, with work on the 266-kilometer line finished in 1969.

Currently, these railways are managed and operated under a concessional investment by Royal Railway, a subsidiary of the conglomerate Royal Group owned by tycoon Kith Meng.  The current trains run at a maximum speed of only 30 km per hour, with mostly served in freight and fewer passengers’ attention to the carriages.



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