Cambodia's first passenger train service in seven years pulled out of Phnom Penh station Saturday, marking a milestone in a revitalization of the country's rail network.

Prime Minister Hun Sen rode the train with senior ministers and a retinue of bodyguards to the coastal town of Sihanoukville, a popular tourist destination on the Gulf of Thailand. 

Royal Railways chief executive John Guiry said the train service, restarted at a cost of over 160 million dollars, will be followed by an expansion of the line north to the Thai border by December. 

“It’s an exciting time for us in the railway,” Guiry told dpa on Saturday. 

Phnom Penh’s art deco station - like much of the country's rail network - was built by the French during the 1930s although the southern line was not completed until the 1960s.

The revived train service will provide an alternative to the congested two-lane road south, which is often packed with trucks and large buses. 

The train is also cheaper than most other modes of transport, with tickets selling for 4-6 US dollars. A monthly wage for a Cambodian garment worker is about 130 dollars; a construction worker makes about 8 dollars a day.

At a lethargic pace of 33 kilometres per hour the train can however take up to 8 hours to do the journey.

A test run in mid-April proved to be a wild success, selling 2,250 ticket over eight days, according to the Cambodia Daily. Saturday’s train was also full. 

Train enthusiast John Cronin, a British resident of Phnom Penh, was travelling to Kampot, one of the intermediary stops. “You can walk about, you can move around, you can meet more people. I feel it’s a different environment,” he said.

“Usually I drive by my own car, but today I just want to get the experience,” said Cambodian fellow passenger Ros Serey Sopheap.

The train to Sihanoukville became infamous in 1994, when Khmer Rouge guerrillas kidnapped and executed three Western tourists riding the train. Service to the south ended in 2002 due to the deteriorating condition of the railways, with the last passenger train to Battambang in central Cambodia shutting down in 2009.

Repairs to the train line have been mired in controversy since they began in 2009, with Australian firm Toll Group pulling out of the project in December 2014 despite having a 30-year concession. 

The current project is financed by the Royal Group, Cambodia’s largest conglomerate, with funding from the Asian Development Bank and the Australian Agency for International Development. 

Related stories

Three reported injured in Phnom Penh explosion

A school for chefs in Cambodia

Cambodia bans sale of human milk

Cambodia gets tough on commercial surrogacy

Latest news

Syrian opposition rules out future role for President al-Assad

The Syrian opposition said Friday it would not accept any role for President Bashar al-Assad in the future of the war-torn country, reacting to a recent US shift saying that removing al-Assad is no longer a priority for Washington.

Russian Army integrates breakaway forces of Georgian province

Parts of the small fighting forces of the Georgian breakaway province of South Ossetia have been placed under Russian military control, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Friday.

Czech Republic's Pilsner Urquell beer is now Japanese

Japanese brewing company Asahi completed its takeover of the Czech brewery Pilsner Urquell on Friday, Asahi said in a statement.

Judge approves 25-million-dollar settlement of Trump University case

A US district judge on Friday approved a 25-million-dollar settlement of lawsuits and state fraud allegations against Trump University, the US president's now-defunct business venture.

Former Thai premier Thaksin to junta on reconciliation: 'Cut me out'

Former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Friday announced that he is not interested in the junta-led reconciliation process, three days after the junta handed him a half-a-billion-dollar tax bill for his past business deal.

Dalic: We welcome possible deal between Agrokor and banks

The government welcomes the possibility of an agreement being concluded between the Agrokor food company and creditor banks, and the bill on vitally important companies is not a fallback plan but the result of the government's care for the overall economic and financial stability of Croatia, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy Martina Dalic told a press conference in Zagreb on Friday.

Croatia, China sign action plan for cooperation in agriculture

The Croatian and Chinese ministries of agriculture on Friday signed an action plan for cooperation in the field of agriculture for the period 2017-2018, the Croatian ministry said in a statement.

ZSE indices up, Agrokor shares in focus of investor interest

The Zagreb Stock Exchange (ZSE) indices on Friday rose by more than 1.8%, with stocks of the Agrokor food and retail concern being in the focus of investor interest again.

Berlin police defend handling of Berlin market attacker

Berlin police defended themselves on Friday against accusations that they stopped surveillance on Berlin Christmas market attacker despite knowing in June 2016 he was dangerous.

Croatia, creditors tailor emergency measures to save tottering giant

Croatia's tottering retail and food giant Agrokor reached an agreement with its creditors, putting its debts standby and allowing it to continue working during emergency restructuring, the Croatian branch of Austria's Erste Bank said Friday.

Agrokor's creditors say standstill agreement to go into force today

A standstill agreement regarding the Agrokor concern's existing financial obligations to banks will take effect on Friday, additional capital will be injected into the concern in the coming days and the concern will be actively restructured, which includes a change of its management, it was said on Friday after a meeting between Agrokor's suppliers and creditor banks.

Palestinians, UN slam Israel's new settlement plan

Palestinians, Israeli activists and the UN lambasted the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday, a day after it gave the go-ahead for the first new West Bank settlement in a quarter of a century.

South Sudan rebels release three abducted foreign oil workers

South Sudanese rebels have released three foreign engineers they abducted in early March in the oil-rich Upper Nile region, Foreign Affairs Ministry official Mawein Makol Arik said on Friday.

Turkish opposition: Imprisoned party chief has gone on hunger strike

The head of Turkey's pro-Kurdish opposition party has launched a hunger strike from prison.

European leagues threaten Champions League schedule clashes

The European Professional Football Leagues (EPFL) on Friday threatened schedule clashes on Champions League matchdays in an ongoing dispute with the governing body UEFA.

Danish court revokes citizenship of IS volunteer

A Danish appellate court on Friday stripped a man of his Danish citizenship for volunteering to fight for the extremist Islamic State in Syria.

Banks and Agrokor agree on key elements of standstill agreement

Member banks of the coordinating committee of financial creditors and representatives of the Agrokor food company have in principle agreed on key elements of a standstill agreement, which is expected to be signed later today, announcing changes in the company's management team, Erste Bank said in a statement on Friday afternoon.

Syrian man on trial in Sweden; mosque attack labelled terrorism

A Syrian man went on trial Friday in the southern Swedish city of Malmo, charged with terrorism and arson after an attack last year on a building used as an assembly hall by Shiite Muslims.