Sunday saw the first steam train to run on Cambodian rails for many years, courtesy Toll Royal Cambodian Railways. A special 'Family Train Ride' had been organised by the Australian Women's Connection & the station was packed with enthusiastic mums & dads with their awe-struck children, who had never seen a steam engine before. The French built locomotive had been restored by Toll Railways to full operating condition, having been withdrawn from service about 10 years ago, as it was in need of substantial repair.
Looking resplendent in her black livery, Franco-Belge Pacific 4-6-2 loco N°231.501 pulled gently into Phnom Penh's main platform, having spent 2 hours or so being fired-up outside the workshops about a kilometre up the line. The usual tranquil calm of the normally deserted Phnom Penh station was shattered by the shrill whistle of the loco, admist cheers from the waiting crowd, especially from the excited children. The current furore about Toll Railways rumoured pull out of Cambodia was all forgotten for today, as Toll Railways CEO David Kerr & COO John Guiry welcomed some 120 passengers, eager to begin their 42km one & half hour trip to Sras Sre, towards Takeo, on the newly refurbished Southern line. The 6-member locomotive crew had spent many hours lovingly cleaning, checking & oiling up the loco outside the main workshops, before holding a special Buddhist prayer ceremony for a safe journey today. They were all very proud to be associated with this historic loco & welcomed many children on board to operate the very loud & shrill steam-whistle, much to the delight of the assembled crowd. Last photos taken, picnics loaded on board & kids not forgotten, the train departed just after 9am, as scheduled, on what must be a truly memorable & proud day for all those participating, especially for Toll Royal Cambodian Railways & their dedicated loco crew. I watched in envy as the train pulled out of the platform - I had a plane to catch.