Kong Meta, The Phnom Penh Post
Fri, 10 February 2017
Battambang’s famed “bamboo railroad” will keep rolling after all.
Authorities confirmed yesterday that the government is planning to rebuild the bamboo line in a new location after it is destroyed to make way for a full-service railway connected to Phnom Penh.
Ngoun Rattanak, spokesman for the provincial governor’s office, told The Post that tours on the railroad will first be halted at some point in the next two months.
“We will stop letting people ride the [railroad] when the construction team reaches the area,” Rattanak said, saying construction is currently advancing through Banteay Meanchey province.
“Now provincial authorities are looking for a new location, because we don’t want to lose it in Battambang for tourism,” he added.
Uch Omthiny Sara, director of the Battambang Tourism Department, had previously reported that 80 percent of visitors to Battambang ride the railroad.
Chum Nhar, Banan district governor, said he has discussed plans with provincial authorities to rebuild the railroad in his district and met with investors on Sunday.
The plans came as a relief to some tour operators.
“My business would be really affected,” said Vuth Savet, owner of Battambang Countryside Trip tours, adding that restaurants and hotels in the area would also close if the railroad was not rebuilt.
“If they rebuild it, I think it’s really good,” said Savet, who added that a change in location would have little effect on his earnings as long as the train kept running.
But at least some whose fortunes are tied to the train depend precisely on its current location for their livelihood.
Hok Sokun, former commune chief of O’Dambang II, where the railroad ends, said the families in his area needed the tourist attraction. “In my commune, there are nearly 30 families depending on the norry for tourism,” he said, using a local term for the bamboo attraction. “This will impact their livelihood.”
Bun Chhoun, a 65-year-old woman, said she has depended on the railway in some form since 1981. She originally transported crops on the line, and when it switched to a tourist attraction, began transporting visitors instead.
“I heard that they are going to stop us from using it after Khmer New Year. I feel very sorry not to have it anymore, but what can we do when the state needs it?” she said.
Rattanak, the spokesman, claimed the villagers were informed and compensated over a year ago, but Chhoun denies ever receiving such payment.
Kim Vannak, Sangke district chief, also claimed that only seven of the 37 drivers who currently operate small cars on the line without permission have been compensated.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ANDREW NACHEMSON