THAILAND: State Railway of Thailand launched a twice-daily passenger service between Bangkok and the Cambodian border on July 1. The service is aimed at Thai and foreign tourists and people visiting the Rong Kleua Market.
The service is expected to promote cross-border trade with Cambodia, with significant growth in ridership expected once the service becomes established.
The new train service between Bangkok and Ban Klong Luk border station in Sa Kaeo province that was launched on July 1 is a major step for Thailand to boost people-to-people ties with its immediate neighbour to the east.
There are four trips a day -- two in each direction -- with the first train leaving Bangkok at 5.55am. Ban Klong Luk in Aranyaprathet is just six kilometres away from Poipet, Cambodia, where the train service linking the border town to the capital, Phnom Penh, was recently revived. The journey from Bangkok to Ban Klong Luk takes about five hours, but the trip from Poipet to Phnom Penh takes around 12.
The complete plan envisages a seamless train service from Bangkok to the Cambodian capital, via Battambang, Cambodia's second-largest city which has economic significance. Cambodia reopened the Poi Pet-Battambang route last year.
Historically, railway services between the two neighbours -- first launched in the 1940s -- have always been inconsistent.
Trains used to run from Battambang to Aranyaprathet, until they were terminated in 1974 because of the country's civil war. Most of the tracks were dilapidated, if not destroyed, by the war, but partial domestic service resumed in the 1990s.
However, the trains completely stopped running after a series of attacks by the Khmer Rouge, who kidnapped foreign travellers for ransom. Later, Cambodia chose to develop the track that links Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville in the southwest.
Outgoing Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith deserves praise for his vision. Earlier this year, he said the train link between the two countries should be revived as the tracks are already connected. "The connection could facilitate cross-border trade and boost tourism," he said.
The launch of the Bangkok-Ban Klong Luk train service followed a symbolic ride on April 22 by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and his counterpart Hun Sen, with whom he crossed the border to Poi Pet. Both leaders want train services between the two countries to resume.
Some academics cautioned that the train service, particularly that for the Poi Pet-Phnom Penh route, may not be competitive compared to other modes of land transport like buses and vans, which take less time. Now there are buses and vans from Bangkok to Phnom Penh, Battambang and Siem Reap, which are popular among locals as well as tourists.
Songrit Pongern, an expert on the Mekong region, said the resumption of services is a symbolic gesture, with "no trade or tourism benefits, at least in the near future".
He reasoned that it takes too long to get to the border from Phnom Penh by train -- 12 hours, as opposed to seven hours by buses and/or vans -- and said that there will better opportunities when China completes the tracks to Vietnam, as the loop will be more extensive.
But there is no reason to wait. We must understand that the rail system, if it is efficient, is worth the investment, thanks to the fact that it is a mass-transit system. It is cheaper, safer and more reliable with a lower carbon footprint.
The big upside to taking the train is that fares are more predictable compared to buses and/or vans, whose fares may fluctuate depending on fuel prices.
At this stage, the service will only be for tourists who want to experience an exotic journey, but it would be best to make it workable means of travel for locals and to boost people-to-people relations.
Poipet railway station on the border with Thailand. Passengers will soon be able to travel to Bangkok. Ministry of Public Works and Transport
Cambodian and Thailand railway authorities will meet on Friday for final discussions on cross-border rail transportation between the nations.
Ly Borin, under-secretary of state of the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, told Khmer Times yesterday that an agreement on cross-border rail transportation had been signed in April last year, but it had not yet been implemented.
The new connection will allow the carriage of cargo more efficiently, lower costs, improve security, reduce traffic jams and contribute to the development of both countries as well as to add a further link with the rest of the Asean members and the Mekong sub-region.
On Friday the 14th of February, we will talk with our Thai counterparts about the cross-border transport via railroad and we will sign the final documents to make sure that people and cargo from both countries can cross the border via train, Ly saidd.
Ly added that, in October last year, the two countries were about to start cross-border rail transportation but floods damaged the railway, so Cambodian authorities delayed the move. He added that now the track is fixed, both countries are nearly ready to start operations.
We plan to start in March at the latest to ensure the cross-border rail transportation runs smoothly between Cambodia and Thailand, Ly said.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and his Thai counterpart Prayut Chan-o-cha, in April last year, presided over the inauguration ceremony on the reconnected railroad network more than 40 years since the route stopped. Both leaders also attended the signing of an agreement on cross-border rail transportation at the ceremony.
Both governments expect it will improve transportation and boost trade. The Stung Bot-Ban Nong Ian Friendship Bridge was also inaugurated to facilitate cargo transportation between the two countries.
The agreement on joint railway traffic and the connection of our railroads again after they were separated in 1974 because of the war, will improve railroad transportation, which is an effective, cheap and safe transportation method, authorities said.
Thailand donated a diesel multiple unit (DMU) to Cambodia. A DMU is a multiple-unit train powered by on-board diesel engines that require no separate locomotive. It was manufactured by Japans Hitachi company and comprises four carriages, each able to carry 80 passengers.
Now we will have both the agreement and the procedure completed. Customs and immigration have already reached agreement so we will finalise everything this Friday. We have to study some elements of the agreement closely but, in principle, we are all agreed, Ly added.
Sun Chantho, minister at the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, has pushed the authorities to prepare for the rail link between Cambodia and Thailand to boost bilateral trade and to upgrade to a better form of mass transportation than bus.
The northern rail link will connect Cambodia and Thailand starting at Phnom Penh and travelling to Poipet on the Thai border, a distance of 386 kilometres. At Poipet a Thai train engine will be fitted to allow onward passage to Bangkok. The Cambodian part of the track was refurbished and used temporarily in late 2018.
This is another successful achievement between Thailand and Cambodia, said Seang Thay, spokesman of the Ministry of Commerce.
We hope that once train is linked between the two nations, cargo transport will be more convenient and it will reduce the logistical costs involved.
According to the data from the Commerce Ministry, bilateral trade between Cambodia and Thailand reached $9.41 billion by the end of 2019, up from $8.39 billion in 2018. Cambodia imported from Thailand around $7.14 billion of goods and exported to Thailand around $2.27 billion worth of products.
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