Thai & Cambodian trains will be only six kilometres apart on Monday but tangible benefits from the new rail link are much further away.
The State Railway of Thailand will on Monday begin service from Bangkok to Ban Klong Luk station in Aranyaprathet district of Sa Kaeo.
There will be four trains per day, two in each direction.
Cambodian trains used to run from Battambang, Cambodia’s second-largest city, across the border to Aranyaprathet station before the service was terminated by the civil war in 1974.
Cambodia has already restarted its weekly train service from Phnom Penh to Poipet, six kilometres from the Thai border at Ban Klong Luk.
Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith said in April that the direct train link between the two countries could be revived as the railway tracks are already connected.
The train connection would facilitate cross-border trade and boost tourism around the eastern border of the country, he added.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen in April demonstrated their intention to see the train service reconnected by riding a Thai train donated to Cambodia across the border from Ban Klong Luk to Poipet on April 22.
The new train from Bangkok will terminate on the Thai side of the border.
However, Songrit Pronger, an independent analyst on the Mekong region, said he expects no trade or tourism benefits from the Thai-Cambodian train re-connection through Aranyaprathet in the near future.
“As far as the costs of transport and commercial service are concerned, trains running between the two countries are not attractive,” he said.
A train from Poipet to Phnom Penh takes 12 hours — compared with a lorry or bus from the Thai border that takes only seven hours to reach the Cambodian capital.
The Aranyaprathet checkpoint is the major border trade hub between the two countries, with most Thai exports to Phnom Penh and other parts of Cambodia crossing the border there.
Two-way trade at the checkpoint more than doubled from 23 billion baht 2008 to almost 60 billion baht in 2018, according to the latest figures.
“The Thai-Cambodian trains are seen as a symbol of closer relations between the two countries,” the analyst said.
But there will be real trade, investment and other business opportunities in the long run after the lines connect with the tracks from China through Vietnam under the Beijing-pushed Belt and Road initiative, he added.