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Take the slow train
Nanning to Hanoi by train
Royal Railway operates the sole railway network in Cambodia, with the main railway line running between Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville. I decided to give the revived railway a shot on a Sunday as it is the only day in the week that has a train which runs in both directions twice a day, enabling me to complete the line in a single day.
I got to Phnom Penh Railway Station with the GrabTukTuk service since it was free with the GRABTRAIN promo code and it’s a lot more comfortable than walking.
Do note that your pick-up/drop-off point must be the designated Phnom Penh Railway Station Grab pick-up/drop-off point in order for the system to accept your free ride.
A thumbs up from the driver of my GrabTukTuk.
The Phnom Penh Railway Station comes alive at around 6.30am with passengers streaming in for the 7am train to Sihanoukville.
Inside the waiting hall with seats fully taken up.
Once boarding calls are made by the staff, proceed to the platform with your ticket in hand. A staff member will be at the platform gate to check for tickets.
If you are bringing along your car, you need to arrive at the station 1 hour before departure to load it onto the train.
Motorcycles can also be brought on board and will be stored in a covered box car.
My train is made up of 2 German coaches manufactured in Uerdingen. I’m supposing that this used to be the former non-air-conditioned Yellow Train which has since been fitted with air-conditioning and converted to a normal coach.
The PP-SHV-0700 train at Phnom Penh Railway Station hauled by Alsthom locomotive number BB1055.
The overall interior of Coach A.
Seats on Coach A are reversible according to the direction of travel.
You can change the direction of the seat by adjusting the seat back.
My ticket for this trip.
Coach A is cooled by 2 units of of Panasonic Inverter air-conditioners.
The buffers and chain coupling for this rake.
The very clean washroom on board.
The train was fully booked for the weekend ride to Sihanoukville.
The PP-SHV-0700 train was delayed for around 15 minutes to wait for the incoming Airport Shuttle Train.
The gangway platform between the two cars.
Departing from Phnom Penh Railway Station.
A short while after departure, the conductor comes around to collect everyone’s tickets.
Approaching the junction to the Airport branch line.
Splitting off to Sihanoukville. The other line will head towards Poipet by the end of this year, and hopefully to Bangkok, Vientiane, Kuala Lumpur and Woodlands CIQ too.
The typical scenery just 1 hour out of Phnom Penh.
Drinks and instant noodles are available for purchase on board at the end of Coach A.
A variety of cold drinks are on offer at this little store, along with Thai Mama Instant Noodles. Each item costs KHR 3,000.
The scenery on the way to Takeo.
Smiling Cambodian children at their villages along the way.
Approaching Takeo Railway Station.
The train makes a 15-minute stop at Takeo for passengers to stretch their legs or to buy refreshments from the stalls at the station.
The interior and platform of Takeo Railway Station.
Local stalls are available selling drinks and snacks.
Departing from Takeo Railway Station.
Passing a level crossing and a local market just after the station.
Glad that the air-conditioning unit is below the coach instead of mounted on the roof.
The scenery on the way to Touk Meas Railway Station.
Arriving at Touk Meas Railway Station to cross with the opposing passenger train.
A loop line is available at the station, but the ballast train is taking up the section.
That’s a… creative way to load ballast up to the wagons.
The ballast wagons up ahead.
That’s a pretty safe fouling point as well.
The train exceeds the station limits to be pushed back into the loop line, which is treated as a siding instead.
Entering the loop line/siding.
And now we wait…
Some former shorter pieces of track are now welded together to form continuously welded rail on the main line.
The wait for the train took around 1 hour and 15 minutes.
What I thought will be the opposing SHV-PP-0700 passenger train turned out to be a cargo train.
The mixed cargo train was hauled by a CRRC Qishuyan CKD6D diesel-electric locomotive numbered BB1061.
2 locomotives? Probably really long.
First up, the oil tankers.
A box car in the middle possibly acting as an adapter for coupling.
Followed by a lot of container wagons. I forgot to count how many wagons there were in total but it took around 5 minutes for the train to pass.
The tailboard signifying (finally) the end of the train.
The rear of the really long cargo train.
My PP-SHV-0700 train continues to remain at Touk Meas, still waiting for the opposing SHV-PP-0700 passenger train.
This is a ridiculously far and ridiculously safe fouling point.
Decided to venture out to the field to get this shot.
After about another half an hour, the crew decided to shunt the train to the main line to allow the incoming passenger train to enter the loop line/siding instead.
Pushing back into the main line.
After another 45 minutes, the opposing passenger train is finally in sight.
The opposing SHV-PP-0700 train was also hauled by a CRRC Qishuyan CKD6D locomotive, numbered BB1060. As Royal Railway has only 2 such locomotives, I’ve technically spotted the full fleet of these modern locomotives in Cambodia.
The box car for hotel power and motorbikes, repainted into the blue passenger coach livery.
The SHV-PP-0700 train was made up of 4 passenger coaches.
As the railway network has no trackside signalling system in place, my train could depart immediately as the opposing SHV-PP-0700 train pulled into the loop line/siding and the point ahead was flipped.
The opposing SHV-PP-0700 train has knuckle coupler adapters via additional wagons at the ends of the rake for it to be compatible with the CRRC Qishuyan CKD6D locomotive.
Finally departing from Touk Meas Railway Station after about a 2.5 hour wait.
The scenery on the way to Kampot.
A short while after, it started to rain.
Thankfully, the rain cleared as the train was pulling in to Kampot Railway Station, so it was easier to walk around the platform and station.
Arrived at Kampot.
A norry is used as a maintenance vehicle here.
Stalls are available for food and drinks, similar to Takeo.
Many passengers alighted here at Kampot.
Looking towards Bokor Hill from Kampot Railway Station.
The interior of the emptied-out train, save for a few passengers going to Sihanoukville.
The interior of Coach B, which has fixed facing bays of seats instead of the bi-directional seats in Coach A.
A small oil tanker with bogies removed by the side of Kampot Railway Station, with a CCTV mounted on top.
Departing from Kampot.
Between Kampot and Sihanoukville, you will get to see a glimpse of the waters of the Gulf of Thailand.
The line between Kampot and Sihanoukville offers the most scenic routes of the train journey.
Approaching Sihanoukville with the view of the waters of Chhak Kampong Som.
Passing by houses by the railway track while approaching the station.
Entering Sihanoukville Railway Station.
Arrived at Sihanoukville Railway Station at 3.45pm – 105 minutes delayed from schedule.
The locomotive gets decoupled to run around the train to shunt the wagons carrying the road vehicles to the other end of the train.
The interior of the Sihanoukville Railway Station building.
The facade of Sihanoukville Railway Station.
The entrance to Sihanoukville Railway Station.
Sihanoukville Railway Station is located near the deep water port of Sihanoukville which is north of the main town and far away from the usual tourist haunts. It seems that getting the rip-off tuk-tuks from the station is the only option to get out of Sihanoukville Railway Station.
Heading back into the station to catch my SHV-PP-1600 train, which will be the same rake that will be turned around.
A motorbike selling Num Pang, which is the Cambodian version of Banh Mi, showed up at the station. I got myself a Num Pang Pâté for US$1.
With the vehicles wagon now at the front (rear?) of the train, the rake gets shunted to the loop line with a ramp to unload the vehicles.
The staff on the ground communicates with the driver through walkie-talkies.
Over here was the best shunting I have seen in the world – the train slowed to a stop, gently touching the scotch block. No jerks, extra braking or even any sounds heard as the train drifted to a soft stop.
The crew then proceed to undo the lashing straps.
First off – a Remork (Cambodian Tuk-Tuk). It was pretty scary to watch, with the moto needing to ride on the buffer and additional metal plate, but it was fine in the end.
Offloading the cars was a pretty straightforward affair.
At the same time, the locomotive decouples from the rake and heads back on the main line for refuelling.
The fuel pump gets pulled across from the main fuel tank to the main line to top up the locomotive for its return trip on the SHV-PP-1600 train.
Overall, the PP-SHV-0700 train isn’t the fastest way to get from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville, especially when waiting for trains to cross at Touk Meas, but when the train is the main destination for the trip, I guess it doesn’t really matter. Moreover, I’m pretty sure the scenery from the train especially between Kampot and Sihanoukville makes up for the additional time required by train.
For a relaxing way to travel across Cambodia and beat the traffic jams, get on the Royal Railway trains.
This article first appeared on railtravelstation.com
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