Cambodia – Cambodian Trains


Cambodia has two rail lines, both originating in Phnom Penh, totalling about 612 kilometres of single, one-meter-gauge track. Today, due to the lack of funds to maintain the tracks and rolling stock, the trains have ceased to run. However, in 2006, I was lucky enough to ride on one of the last Cambodian trains heading north to Battambang on Saturdays and returning to Phnom Penh on Sundays.

Running at less than 20km an hour, the journey (around 4 hours by road), took up to 17 hours. Pulled by a 1994 Czech yard-engine, “sleeper class” consisted of a hammock and the tracks were clearly visible through the crumbling wooden flooring. The train rocked, often alarmingly, from side to side but the beautiful countryside passing by made up for it. Foreigners paid double, but tickets still cost next to nothing. During the journey, the train became a village market, and if the hustle and bustle became too much, one could escape to the roof. Just be careful to duck when a power line comes along!

During the Khmer Rouge years in the late 1970s, one carriage would carry a huge gun turret whilst an empty one was attached to the front of the locomotive. This empty carriage was for “landmine clearance” and was free of charge to sit in!

China recently donated some new diesel-electric locomotives, but they stand eerily unused in a shed as the tracks are too dilapidated to handle them.

The dilapidated railways network connecting Phnom Penh to Sisophon and Sihanoukville is due to be repaired and a service restarted soon.

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