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Skytrain a bold vision for city

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Skytrain a bold vision for city

Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has confirmed it will kick off work on a feasibility study for a $800 million skytrain that would run through Phnom Penh following recent talks between Japanese and Cambodian ministers.

Chin Kimheang, program officer at the Public Relations & Training Affairs Section for JICA Cambodia, told Post Property work on a detailed feasibility study for the skytrain would now begin in August with the intentions of submitting the study to the Cambodian government for review once completed.

The feasibility study, which was initially supposed to start in April and which follows a pre-feasibility study on the railway, will provide a comprehensive breakdown of projected costs for the development and will also narrow down the preferred routes.

“The objective of the project is to construct an urban railway in Phnom Penh in order to address the increasing traffic demands, hereby contributing to mitigating traffic congestion in the capital,” she said. Kimheang was unable to provide a completion timeframe for the study.

Called the Automated Guideway Transit (AGT) line, the proposed electric skytrain would include more than ten stations and have a train capacity of a 3-car train to accommodate 330 people.

A 2014 preliminary study said the city centre and the northern/southern and western suburban areas had been selected as the priority transit routes for the likely elevated rail system.

The targeted rail system corridors, which would connect to the Phnom Penh airport, would see the south-north corridor pass through Monivong Boulevard; the east-west corridor pass through Russian Blvd while the Southwest Corridor would pass through Monireth Blvd.

Municipality spokesman Met Measpheakdey told Post Property that City Hall was looking forward to meeting JICA to understand more about the rail system once the final feasibility study was complete.

“City Hall met with JICA once last year to discuss the proposal of constructing an automated skytrain but we can’t yet agree to the project until we find out more details on cost, duration of construction and the impact of the development,” he said.

With traffic congestion on the rise, Institute for Road Safety Director Ear Chariya said the creation of efficient public transport in Phnom Penh was long overdue.

“The creation of public transport services should be a priority due to the increasing rate of traffic congestion,” he said.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
The proposed AGT line would link Phnom Penh’s city centre with the airport. Photo supplied

Chariya added that the creation of a railway system, elevated or not, would encourage the use of public transport, thus reducing reliance on cars, and in time, could even reduce emissions as a result of less people using their own private vehicles.

However Chariya said that a holistic approach was needed in delivering effective infrastructure for a rapidly urbanising city like Phnom Penh. This included the creation of more public parking, sidewalks and expanding the city’s bus system.

Commenting on the proposed AGT line, James Seong-Cheol Kang, principal transport specialist at Global Green Growth Institute, said the development would be part of the solution to Phnom Penh’s traffic woes.

“The Automated Guideway Transit train certainly will have a positive impact on reducing traffic congestion in the city,” he said.

“However, to what extent such an impact is realised will depend on various factors such as convenience of using AGT and affordability of fares.”

Seong-Cheol Kang said the key to the skytrains success would be to shift as many private car users to the AGT as possible.

“The AGT alone cannot solve the traffic problems in the city,” he said, noting that an important component to an effective public transport system is the integration of bus systems which would need to link to the AGT.

While the benefits of a railway system are far-reaching, Seong-Cheol Kang said it was usually difficult to recover the full costs of a public transport system such as the AGT with affordable fares for users.

“The city government may have to be willing to absorb losses or provide subsidies to the operator,” he said.

“Furthermore, if this is an elevated AGT, careful thoughts should be given when designing it. Sometimes such an elevated structure could block the scenery of the city and become an “ugly” infrastructure as it gets older. If it is designed and maintained well, however, it can be an attraction in Phnom Penh.”

While this is not the first time the idea of a skytrain to ease Phnom Penh’s bustling streets has been floated, with plans of a system being compared to that of Bangkok’s skytrain network, little progress has been made since JICA’s first study on the proposal was undertaken in 2014. With the number of cars on the city’s roads increasing at a fast rate, the feasibility study would need a rapid turnaround to be able to have a crack at easing congestion in coming years.

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