Passenger train services restarted in May 2016. There is now a passenger service running on the railway line from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville via Takeo and Kampot. Train services started in Cambodia in the 1930s, with a total of 612 km of track laid under the direction of the French Colonial administrators. The first train ran from Phnom Penh to Poipet to connect with the Thai railway system. However, following a breakdown in relation between the French colonialists and the Thailand government trains ceased running between the two countries and with the impetus of international trade the Cambodian Railway Network fell into disrepair until finally in 2009 train services ceased entirely.
Relations between the Thai and Cambodian Governments have now improved, in part because of their joint membership of ASEAN, and the Cambodian railway network is slowly being beginning to function again. Royal Railways of Cambodia is actively pursuing plans to refurbish existing track as well as to lay new track. Following a 70 year hiatus the momentum of the early railway building programme in Cambodia is coming back and exciting times are ahead for both Cambodia’s railway system and as well the prospect of an integrated South East Asia railway network linking China to Singapore via the countries of Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia.
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Future of Cambodia’s Railway Network
In addition to the once a day Friday, Saturday and Sunday train services from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville, a number of other railway project are being planned and one is nearly finished. The project which is nearly finished is the international connection between Thailand and Poipet in Cambodia. Thailand has donated a train and at present the only obstacle in the way of recommencing train services between Thailand and Cambodia is short stretch of track which need to laid in Poipet. Simultaneously Royal Railways are working on rehabilitating the existing track from Poipet to Phnom Penh via Battambang.
If the work progresses then it might only be 2 to 3 years until direct passengers services from Bangkok to Phnom Penh come in to operation which be a ‘game-changer’ in the push to developed a fully integrated transport network across mainland South East Asia. Royal Railways are also pursuing government approval and international funding for 2 new train lines in Cambodia:
- A train line linking Poipet to Phnom Penh via Siem Reap, allowing visitors to the famous Angkor Wat (Cambodia’s premier tourist attraction) to get there by train.
- A rail link from Phnom Penh to Vietnam via Sunol.
A fourth project to link Phnom Penh to Laos via Steng Treng has been proposed, but the absence of any progress in constructing a railway line in Laos means it is very unlikely that this project will start within even the next 20 years.