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Cambodians Use Makeshift Trains Built With Bamboo

Battambang is a main hub to the capital, Phnom Penh, and has long been one of the country's leading rice-producing provinces. It is Cambodia's second largest city with a population of about one million people but trains are irregular, and they often travel at little more than walking pace.

At the Battambang train station abandoned train carriages lay idle, the so-called bamboo trains have become an unofficial part of Cambodia's transport network.

With an official train service departing just once a week, local people have come to rely heavily on the de facto train network. They have taken matters into their own hands by establishing a network of vehicles they call "noris" or "lorries" to get around in. This is bamboo train driver, Ngol Ngoun.

Ngo Ngoun: "It's very safe to travel on this railway here. Plus it's easy to carry crops, or tools, or whatever, back and forth to the rice fields. That's why people like it so much-- it brings them directly to their rice fields safely and easily."

The trains are constructed from bamboo and are built with tiny electric engines which allow the vehicles to reach top speeds of about 40 kilometres (25 miles) per hour. The villagers use any wood they can find including warped and broken rails which can make for a bumpy ride but that does not seem to worry the locals who are accustomed to travelling on the bamboo trains in large groups. Rice farmer, Teng Kann, says he regularly uses the train.

Teng Kann: "I take the train because it's cheaper than using the motobike for my business. Also, the noris comes and goes at night time, and when people get sick, they can go to hospital for less- if you hire a car it will cost you a lot more."

The low fares apply not only to local villagers but to young foreign tourists travelling on a budget. Matteo Keffer from Italy says it is "incredible to see how the (villagers) utilise the old (French) colonial infrastructure."

Matteo Keffer: "It's incredible to see how they utilise the old colonial infrastructure for their benefit and the farmers around here are reall friendly. Battambang itself was a pleasant surprise."

Federica Fruhwirth: "Now let's hope we get home in one piece."

The official railways survived decades of civil war and sabotage by the Khmer Rouge but years without maintenance have taken their toll and the service is not without quirks. There is only one track - so if two trains meet, the train transporting the lightest load has to be taken off the rails. Yet the simple design of the vehicles means the trains can be easily dismantled. So for now local people say they will continue to rely on the bamboo railway even though Cambodia's rail authorities plan to rebuild the country's entire rail network by 2011.

Information for this report was provided by APTN.