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 rehabilitation of the previously existing lines has been slow, so that the international connection has remained isolated for some years.
Reopening between Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville intially concentrated on freight services, but in April 2016 a trial passenger service was operated, with regular services commencing the following year. In 2018, passenger services began to operate on the new line between Paoy Pet and Serei Saophoan, extended later in the year as far as Battambang on the old line towards Phnomh Penh.
Also in 2018, a passenger shuttle service was inaugurated between central Phnom Penh and the International Airport. This uses a new 1.6km branch which diverges from the Sihanoukville line about 8km from the capital.
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 rail mounted flat trucks for local transport on the main line. Those in the area around Battambang became popular as tourist rides, known as the Bamboo Train. With rehabilitation of the main line railway, these ad hoc services ceased in 2017, but have been recreated on a dedicated 4km stretch of line at Banang, about 20km south of Battamabang city, constructed with materials salvaged from the original line.
Flag image from CIA World Factbook