Cambodia should rebuild the railway instead of building a canal

The Bassac Sea-Link plans to connect Phnom Penh to a seaport in Kampot, but a railway would be quicker and a better allocation of resources

-Railway at Kampot, Cambodia.

Cambodia is studying a proposal to build a waterway and canal system to connect Phnom Penh to Kampot Province via the Bassac River.

The 180 km Bassac River Navigation and Logistics System (also called the Bassac Sea-Link) would utilise the Bassac River and other waterways through a system of locks, along with a 7 km-long new canal. One of the selling points of the sea link is to bypass the Mekong Delta, thus removing a border crossing in Vietnam.

Here are more details about the Bassac Sea-Link.

Instead of building this canal and waterway system, Cambodia should focus on redeveloping the railway system.

Here is why the railway would be better than a canal system.

The Southern Line is already planned to be redeveloped

The current Southern Line is a single-track metre-gauge railway that links Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville. There is a passenger service that runs on the line and it is also used for shipping freight from Sihanoukville Port to Phnom Penh.

There are now plans to rebuild the Poipet-Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville line into a high-speed railway. The "high-speed" was mentioned as 160 km/h, which is semi-high-speed, but that is an ideal speed for Cambodia.

This railway redevelopment is already being planned, so money spent on the canal, locks, and dredging would be better spent on rebuilding the railway.

The canal can only be used for Kampot even though Sihanoukville is the largest port

The news reports mention that the waterway will serve a port in Kampot. While it doesn't say exactly, it is assumed that it will be the new International Multi-Purpose Logistics and Port Centre in Kampot. The canal doesn't reach Sihanoukville though, which is the largest port in Cambodia (and is now being expanded).

All the money spent on the new canal system will only benefit this minor port.

A rail link to the Kampot port would only require 2-3 km of new railway

The Kampot International Port is close to the Southern Line, so it would only be a matter of building a spur line of 2 or 3 km to connect the port to the railway. Phnom Penh would then be connected to both ports by rail.

The train will not add any extra handling

Moving shipping containers from the sea to Phnom Penh will take the same amount of labour movement no matter what system is used:

- A container ship arrives at Sihanoukville or Kampot and the containers are unloaded.

- Containers are then transferred to a river barge or a train.

- The containers are then unloaded in Phnom Penh from the river barge or train.

- Containers are then loaded onto trucks for final delivery.

The most important factor for Cambodia is that containers are arriving in Cambodia, so there is no crossing another border to get to Phnom Penh.

The train will be faster than a riverboat

If the new railway is planned to operate at 160 km/h, that would be the same speed that is used on the Laos-China Railway. Freight trains on that line run at an impressive 120 km/h. Compare that to a riverboat that goes through many small river systems, locks, and a narrow canal, which would likely take all day.

Reduce container-truck traffic in central Phnom Penh

An additional benefit of using the railway instead of waterways would be the reduction of traffic to the Phnom Penh Autonomous Port. The port is on Sisowath Quay near the city centre, so if containers are shipped to a yard outside of the inner city, that would be better for the city of Phnom Penh.

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