Poipet, on the Cambodian side of the border, is dominated by legalised gambling. Source: Wikimedia
A rail link between Thailand and Cambodia could be completed by the end of 2016, the Phnom Penh Post has reported.
Cambodia and Thailand have long sought to complete a rail link but have had to overcome numerous obstacles over the years, often a troubled bilateral ties and border disputes. Seen from the Cambodian side, the link would be part of a wider attempt to expand its rail system, much of which was destroyed during the 1970s civil war, when the link to Thailand was severed.
Bangkok’s military rulers see it as part of the government’s extensive infrastructural plans.
Cambodian tourism minister Thong Khon visited the construction site of the train line in the north-westerly province of Banteay Meanchey, where just 6km of track reportedly needed to be laid.
On the Cambodian side, the link runs from Sisophon – the capital provincial city of Banteay Meanchey – to the gambling hub of Poipet on the Thai border.
Poipet governor Ngor Meng Chroun said that three casinos and the immigration office would have to be partly relocated to make way for the link. Their relocation, he said, was not a matter for discussion.
“This is not something those companies or the immigration officers should negotiate or refuse because they have known that their buildings were located close to or on the railroad territory,” he announced.
Sim Sam Arth, police chief at the immigration checkpoint, confirmed that his office would move to a new headquarters, which had already been constructed.
“By next week we will move to the new office as the two ministers have already talked to each other, so we don’t bother to ask any questions. We’ll just move,” he said.
The casinos were unavailable for comment.
Poipet is mainly associated with casinos in Thailand where legal gambling brings busloads of Thai day trippers each day, intent on risking their wages in the glitzy establishments which dwarf the rest of the Cambodian border town.
The State Railway of Thailand is rehabilitating track from Aranya Prathet station in Sa Kaeo province to the border at Ban Khlong Luek which is opposite the town of Poipet on the Cambodian side.
The rail link has been the subject of recent bilateral discussions between the two countries, including during Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s visit to Thailand last month which was his first in a decade.
During that historic summit, Cambodian transport ministry spokesman Ly Borin said that his government would concentrate on finishing the missing link of track from Sisophon to Poipet by mid-2016.
Once that is completed, contractors are expected to work on launching services from Phnom Penh to Bangkok. Previous efforts to establish a railway link between the two capital cities have foundered. Cambodia’s flat terrain should make it suitable for swift rail development, especially now Beijing is investing heavily in linking the region to its southern provinces.
Services between the two countries were suspended in the 1970s due to the civil war in Cambodia.
In recent years the lines from Phnom Penh to Siahnoukville and Sisophon have gradually been restored, although the network remains isolated from those of neighbouring countries.