Transport boost for South East Asian tourism

Rail travel into Cambodia from other Asian countries could be a possibility again by 2013 thanks to a new loan from the Asian Development Bank.

Cambodia is a popular destination for backpackers, as it sits between tourism hotspots Vietnam and Thailand. The country's railway is currently in tatters but the extra funds will allow the rebuilding of track that historically linked Cambodia with Thailand, and the construction of a new maintenance facility outside Phnom Penh. In June, Cambodia announced that an Australian venture would be responsible for managing the railway system to attract more tourism and boost trade.

"This upgraded rail network will position Cambodia as a true sub-regional transport hub," said Peter Broch, senior transport economist in ADB's Southeast Asia Department. "Without this project the railway would cease to function."

Cambodia has two rail lines and approximately 600km of track, almost all of which is neglected - derailments are common and until recently trains were fitted with a front carriage that acted as a minesweeper. Scheduled passenger services in Cambodia have been nonexistent since the single service between Battambang and Phnom Penh reportedly ceased to function in early 2009 and backpacking guide Lonely Planet currently advises tourists to hitch on freight trains if rail travel is absolutely necessary.

By doubling the size of its $42m loan, the Asian Development Bank will be providing nearly 60 percent of the funding for a $141m project that promises to make the Cambodian rail system operational by 2013.

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