The Asian Development Bank and government officials broke ground on a $73 million railway project Wednesday, beginning a plan to repair the ailing rails from Bantey Meanchey province to Sihanoukville.
The goal of the 650-kilometer rehabilitation is to connect Poipet to Phnom Penh and Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville by 2010. The first stretch will be the 48 kilometers from Poipet to Sisophon.
"Most important is the connection of Cambodia's interior, and connection of Cambodia to Thailand, which was the vision of King Father Norodom Sihanouk," Prime Minister Hun Sen said at Monday's ceremony, which was broadcast on national radio.
The ADB has pledged $42 million for the project, followed by OPEC with $13 million, the Cambodian government with $15.7 million and the Malaysian government with $2.8 million.
ADB President Haruhiko Kuroda said at the ceremony the railway was one of the last steps in the creation of a trans-regional rail network that will connect Singapore to China, across Southeast Asia.
Railway service in Cambodia consists now of homemade trolleys made of bamboo and wood, he said.
"The event marks a major milestone in the royal government's policy to revitalize the country's economy and bring prosperity to its population," he said.
"The railway connection to Thailand's railway network and Asia, starting from Sisophon and Poipet, is the main factor to push the Cambodian socio-economic development, to rapidly reduce the poverty of the Cambodian people," Minister of Transport and Communication Sun Chanthol said.