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Kunming, Singapore could have rail link by 2011

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Engineers from China and Australia are preparing to commence work on the last remaining stretch of track of the east trunk line of the Trans-Asian Railway, which will link Kunming and Singapore via Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia, according to a Voice of America report.

The missing link in this rail line is Cambodia, which needs to upgrade hundreds of kilometers of colonial-era lines plus build a new east line to Vietnam in order to connect stations in China and Vietnam with Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.

If Asian Development Bank (ADB) projections hold true, this section of the Trans-Asian Railway could be sending travelers and freight between Kunming and Singapore within two years, the report said.

The Cambodian government has split the job in two, with the contract for the west line - consisting of old lines originally built by the French - going to Australia's Toll Holdings. This line will connect Phnom Penh with Thailand and will also dip southward to the port city of Sihanoukville, one of the largest ports in the Gulf of Thailand.

China Railway Group holds the contract for carrying out a feasibility study to link Phnom Penh with Vietnam to the east through a 255-kilometer rail line passing through the Cambodian border town of Snoul, the report said. It was only last year that Cambodia and Vietnam signed an agreement that will allow their respective rail networks to connect.

Analysts believe that completion of the Cambodia section will provide a major boost to Cambodia's economy and its role within the region. In addition to multitudes of tourists, trains traveling the Trans-Asian Railway are expected to transport large amounts of bulk freight such as rice.

As with most large infrastructure projects in Asia, resettlement of people living along the proposed route is a variable that will determine when the project is completed. An ADB official said he expects the resettlement issue to be resolved without major difficulty, in which case travelers may be taking trains between Kunming and Singapore within two years.

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