The International Steam Pages

Steam in Cambodia 2012

231.501 ran a number of setam specials some 10 years ago, you can see one of them on our CD-ROM Tiger Steam. Now Michael Pass reports that it has been put back into action, The USD 15 per person for the 120 luck punters will barely have covered the cost of the wood fuel... If you were on the train, I'd love to put some of your pictures on this site, please get in touch.

7am Sunday 18 March 2012 saw me en-route to the loco sheds at Phnom Penh Station to meet the crew who were due to be firing up Pacific loco N°231.501 in readiness for the first steam train to run on Cambodian rails for many years, courtesy Toll Royal Cambodian Railways. Already very hot & more than a kilometre to walk, I was very grateful to be given a lift by some of the crew, on their way to the loco. We stopped a few times to change the points as, despite many upgrades, everything is still done manually.

I found the loco already belching smoke & the crew of 6 enthusiastic Cambodians busy checking her over, tightening nuts everywhere & refilling all the oil pots – leaving nothing to chance, as today was only her second outing. She had been test run some 45 km up the line on Wednesday, but had previously stood idle for nearly a decade!

As I speak no Khymer & they spoke virtually no English, it seemed we may have a communication problem – but no, two of the old hands, who had served in the dangerous Pol Pot times, when loco crews were particular targets, spoke French – progress followed quickly ! It would be a while before steam pressure reached 12 bar, as it was only just 4 when I arrived, so we got to know each other & I was invited to join them on the footplate to make offerings & prayers to Buddha for a safe journey today. It was scorchingly hot & so I retired to the top of the log pile on the tender to take more photos. Sufficent pressure was reached quickly from the roaring firebox & the Alsacienne Pacific eased her way backwards through the yard towards Phnom Penh station.

Again, frequent stops to change points, we gently & smoothly edged our way past a long line of new, empty & unused tanker wagons, into the main platform, where a crowd of enthusiastic, photo-snapping passengers were already awaiting our arrival. This special ‘Family Train Ride’ had been organised by The Australian Women’s Connection & the station was packed with mums & dads with their awe-struck children, who had never seen a steam engine before. There were squeals of delight & some howls of fright from the children in the assembled crowd, as the driver let off long, shrill blasts on the whistle. Evidently the steam loco was the big surprise of the day as everyone had only been expecting an ordinary train & this big black shiny loco was anything but ordinary!

This magnificent 4-6-2 Pacific loco was built in 1939 by SACM-Graffenstaden, first serving with Les Chemins de Fer de L’Indochine in Vietnam, before coming to Cambodia. It had run some charter trains up to around 2004, when she was withdrawn from service, needing substantial repairs. Toll Railways had quietly restored her to full working order & surprised everyone by giving her the first official outing today ! The current furore about Toll Railways rumoured pull-out from Cambodia was all forgotten for today, as CEO David Kerr & John Guiry, Chief Operations Officer personally welcomed some 120 passengers, eager to begin their 42km, 2 hour trip to Sras Sre, towards Takeo, on the newly refurbished Southern line.

The 6 man crew had spent many hours lovingly preparing their loco for today’s event & welcomed children & adults alike onto the footplate – Phnom Penh’s usually deserted & tranquil station resounded with many shrill blasts from the steam-whistle that morning ! John gave the assembled crowd a safety talk before boarding began, whilst the crew posed for a group photo. Shortly after 9am Cambodia’s only working steam locomotive, gently pulled out of the station, beginning for some – the adventure of a lifetime, leaving me behind, enviously watching their departure – I had a plane to catch!

Hope to see her gracing Cambodia’s rails once again soon – BON VOYAGE !

Rob Dickinson