Thai-Cambodia rail link stalled by compensation claims

Thai-Cambodia rail link stalled by compensation claims

The improved track on the Thai side of the railway in Sa Kaeo province as of July 2014. (Bangkok Post file photo)
The improved track on the Thai side of the railway in Sa Kaeo province as of July 2014. (Bangkok Post file photo)

PHNOM PENH - Settlement of compensation claims for 50 families living alongside a kilometre of rail track in the border town of Poipet threatens to delay the opening of a new rail service between Cambodia and Thailand.

Ly Borin, under-secretary of state at the Transport Ministry and director of Cambodia’s Railway Restoration Project, said officials are trying to speed up efforts to relocate the villagers so the Battambang to Poipet service can launch on schedule in mid-2017. The track links Poipet and Sa Kaeo province.

Villagers living in the area have been asked to submit legal documents for compensation, Mr Borin said, but refused to reveal how much the people will receive, according to the Khmer Times.

Prime Minister Hun Sen and Thai premier Prayut Chan-o-cha plan to inaugurate the service by travelling on it together when Phnom Penh hosts the Cambodia-Thailand Joint Cabinet Meeting in July or August.

But Mr Borin said the compensation issue could mean work on the Cambodian side of the track is not finished in time. 

“If the issue isn't solved completely by July or August, the two prime ministers will not be able to get on the train together as planned,” Mr Borin said. “I am not sure if we're going to be ready for them to shake hands on the train, because a lot of work remains to be done.”

Once the rail line from Battambang to Poipet is fully restored, the government will start work on the track from Battambang to Pursat province, Mr Borin said. A limited budget meant the work had to be staggered.

The agreement to link railways between the two countries was made by Mr Hun Sen and Gen Prayut in late 2015 and aims to boost trade and travel. It is hoped it will increase annual bilateral trade to US$15 billion by 2020.

An estimated $17 million was needed to restore poor track conditions in the northwest, Transport Minister Sun Chanthol said last May.

Economic analysts have said the railway between Cambodia and Thailand will improve trade, cut transport costs, and make travel easier for people in both countries.

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