The first railway in Cambodia was a line from Phnom Penh to Paoy Pet (Poipet) on the border with Thailand, where it linked with the Thai railway network. The 388km metre gauge line was opened in stages between 1932 and 1940, when the country was part of French Indochina. Between 1960 and 1969, a new 254km line was constructed linking Phnom Penh with the port of Sihanoukville.
War and other depradations lead to the decline of the railways and all services had ceased by 2009.
In 2010 a concession to rehabilitate and operate the railways was awarded to Toll Royal Railway. The work included complete rehabilitation of the lines from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville, and from Phnom Penh to Serei Saophoan (Sisophon), also the rebuilding of a 48km lifted section of track between Serei Saophoan and Paoy Pet, with a link from there to the rail network of Thailand at Aranyaprathet. The first section to be reopened was from Phnom Penh to Touk Meas on the line to Sihanoukville, in late 2010. The remainder of the South Line was reopened through to Sihanoukville by the end 2012. Construction of the line from Serei Saophoan to Aranyaprathet commenced in 2014. In 2015, work was reported as largely complete and Toll Group divested its holding in the railway concession, the name being changed to Royal Railway. In early 2016, the Cambodian government announced that the cross-border link between Paoy Pet and Aranyaprahet should be completed by the end of the year. However it now appears that progress on the rehabilitation of the existing line between Phnom Penh and Serei Saophoan has been slow, and it may be some time before through services can operate.
Reopening has concentrated mainly on freight services, but in April 2016 a trial passenger service operated between Phnomh Penh and Sihanoukville. A passenger train is available for special events and private charter, and a regular service on this line is planned for 2017.
At the end of 2012, a memorandum of understanding was signed between Cambodia Iron and Steel Mining Industry Group and China Railway Group for the construction of a 404km railway from a new steel works in the Rovieng District of Preah Vihear Province to a new seaport on the island of Koh Smach in Koh Kong province.
A long term proposal exists for a new railway linking Phnom Penh with Vietnam, but no definite plans have emerged as yet.
During the period when the lines were out of use, local residents in various parts of the country would use hand propelled rail mounted trolleys for local transport on the main line. Those in the area around Battambang became popular as tourist rides, known as the Bamboo Train. At present, these continue to operate under the supervision of local Tourist Police, although they may have to cease on the reintroduction of regular train services.
Flag image from CIA World Factbook