The International Steam Pages

Steam in Cambodia 1999

This report is courtesy of Florian Schmidt who has now organised several steam tours in Cambodia

The Royal Railways of Cambodia

The Royal Railways of Cambodia consist of two metre-gauge lines, a 387 km link from Phnom Penh to the Thai border at Poipet, and a 262 km line from the to capital to the port of Sihanoukville. The former was completed in 1942, the latter in 1969.

After almost 30 years of bombing, genocide and civil war Cambodia's railway system has now been rehabilitated to allow for scheduled passenger and freight services. Two passenger trains leave Phnom Penh for Battambang and Sihanoukville in the early morning hours every other day. Freight movements depend on actual demand, but increasing construction activity throughout the Kingdom made rising imports of cement through the port of Sihanoukville (and the subsequent transport by train) necessary.

Motive power consists of 16 CKD and (still armoured) Alsthom-built 'Bo-Bo' line-work diesels, as well as 7 shunters from the same manufacturers. The French locos were delivered between 1966 and 1968, the Czech followed between 1990 and 1994.

Steam Locomotives of the RRC

Steam traction has survived: Phnom Penh shed is home to eight Chapelon-style Pacifics delivered by SACM Graffenstaden in 1939 (Construction numbers 7741-49), two of which are serviceable:

231.501, serviceable
231.502, dumped
231.503, derelict (only frame and tender)
231.504, serviceable
231.505, dumped
231.507, derelict, outside of the shed
231.508, dumped
231.509, dumped

In addition, 141.551 (SACM Graffenstaden, 8042, built 1950), and 131.110 (Franco Belge Raismes 1912), were found dumped in the workshops.

According to the senior RRC staff, 231.506 is kept as serviceable reserve loco in Battambang, Cambodia's second largest city, and 230.406 (possibly Hanomag 10689, built 1930) in the central Cambodian city of Pursat. This, however, could not be confirmed. (In practice 231.506 is at Pursat out of use, quite what is at Battambang is not known. RD 11/99)

Wood-fired 231.501 in Steam

The most exciting finding of the trip was the fact that 231.501 was put under steam to pull a mixed train from Phnom Penh to the provincial capital of Takeo, some 75 km south, on March 28th. The well-preserved 60 year old Pacific did a terrific job, and - thanks to the always friendly and co-operative crew - numerous photo-stops and runpasts were possible. The scenery is typical SE-Asian (i.e. flat with lots of rice paddies, palm trees, some bridges and temples en route).

Classic French Pacific 231.501

No doubt, the ride on a wood-fired Pacific through the rice paddies of Cambodia in the 1990s is certainly one of the most unique experiences railway enthusiasts can experience today.

231.501 in action

231.501 in action

231.501 in action

231.501 in action

The above trip was a precursor to an attractive four day Cambodia adventure planned from November 14th to 18th 1999, read the report.

Rob Dickinson