Citizens Cash in on Free Train Travel

Kiripost speaks to passengers queuing up at Phnom Penh railway station to take advantage of free train travel during Pchum Ben
People wait to get free tickets at the train station in Phnom Penh, September 22, 2022. Kiripost/Iea Sonita
People wait to get free tickets at the train station in Phnom Penh, September 22, 2022. Kiripost/Iea Sonita

Scores of people have flocked to train stations to take advantage of the government announcement that train travel during the Pchum Ben holidays will be free to cut down the transportation costs.

There are two days to grab the free train tickets at the Royal Railway, and today is the last day to get the free tickets.

This morning, passengers arrived at the railway station in Phnom Penh to exchange their free vouchers for official tickets. Many more were waiting to get their free tickets from 9am to 11am.

On a whiteboard in front of the cashier’s desk, a statement said on September 22, from 9am, there will be free train tickets available for the Phnom Penh-Pursat-Battambang line. Passengers must arrive at the station at 6am to catch their train.

Kiripost interviewed three citizens who came to get the free tickets to know why they want to travel by train instead of other transportation, what are their thoughts on free train tickets, where they are headed for the traditional Khmer festival, and their experiences of traveling by train.

Hoeun Sonisay was standing in front of the train ticket desk carrying his small white dog as she waited to exchange the voucher she received at the train station the previous day an official ticket from Phnom Penh to Pursat.

Even though she has traveled by train once already, Sonisay still wants to repeat the experience during this weekend’s Pchum Ben Day celebrations.

“I went to gather my family. And the reason I want to travel by train again is because I traveled by train once and I had a lot of fun. One more thing, I think if I travel by car there might be traffic jams and wasting time. Traveling by train means no traffic jam and arriving at the destination [on time],” Sonisay said.

She said she has noticed that the speed of the train is faster than before, taking about four hours to reach her hometown. When she heard the news that all the citizens can get free train tickets, she seized the opportunity.

However, pets are not allowed to travel by train, she told Kiripost at the train station.

Another citizen waiting at Royal Train Square, identified herself as Sinat to Kiripost this morning. She said she was unable to get a ticket as there were none left.

“Actually they [government] asked us to go to get free ticket two days in advance, but I was busy yesterday and waiting for today to get the ticket. This morning when I came, they said there are no tickets anymore. Only those available for the 25th and 26th tickets and it’s different from the days that we go home. So, I don’t have the ticket to go back home,” she told Kiripost.

The Cambodian government and Royal Railway confirmed on Friday that train travel will be free for four days from September 23 to 26.

As a freelance garment worker who often changes her workplace following the needs of other factories and without the formal identity required of garment worker staff, she was afraid of getting free train tickets to travel to her hometown Pursat province as free bus tickets required an identity staff card.

“The only way to go home is to travel by taxi, and I don’t have money. Since, the salary that I’ve just gotten is only $200. Therefore, after I heard about the announcement that there are free train tickets, I expect to get it without spending. Coincidentally, there are no more tickets, I have to spend 50,000 riel for a taxi ticket per one person and I have five family members to go back home together. Just traveling back and forth, including the cost of eating, I might spend almost $100,” she described.

She told Kiripost that she travels by train as the cost is about 3000 riels. This time, she wanted her family members, who have never traveled by train to grab this opportunity. She said traveling by train is fun and non-toxic as she gets travel sick when traveling by car.

Oum Savai, 75, told Kiripost while her grandsons and other family members were waiting to get free tickets from Phnom Penh to Kampot that she believes these free tickets can facilitate the cost of expansion during the Pchum Ben Days. Moreover, she wants her three grandsons to experience the train.

“I never have my own car, and I always travel by taxi. Since the Covid-19 outbreak until now I have never been to my hometown yet. Even my family in law, I haven’t visited them yet. For this current train, I have never tried before and now I bring my grandsons to try it together,” she said.

There will be two free lines in operation, from Phnom Penh to Kampong Chhnang and Pursat to Battambang, and Phnom Penh to Takeo, Kampot, and Preah Sihanouk.