Railway project suffers a blow

Tom Brennan, Phnom Penh Post ,March.23  2012

The contractor in charge of rebuilding Cambodia’s national railway has been cutting corners on the health and safety of its workers, according to a report published yesterday by the Asian Development Bank.

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AN EMPLOYEE OF TOLL ROYAL RIDES ON A TRAIN NEAR PHNOM PENH RAILWAY STATION. PHOTO BY SOVAN PHILONG

TSO-AS & Nawarath, a French-Thai joint venture, was reportedly found to have grossly violated health and safety requirements at workers’ camps along both the northern and southern rail lines.
The report details, among other infractions, the deep pits and quarries left behind by TSOworkers as they dig soil and stone for use in other areas of a construction site.
Those pits along the section of the project located between Sisophan and Poipet, “were very dangerous … especially to children, [who] can fall into the pit and die”, the report states.
The pits had steep slopes, to a depth of more than four metres, according to the report, and yet TSO had made no attempt to take preventative measures.
Safety scandals
In late 2010, two children – a brother and sister aged 9 and 13 respectively – drowned while fetching water from a pond on a Battambang resettlement site for families who previously lived along the railway, according to media reports.
The Cambodian government-sanctioned site was reported to be without fresh running water.
Japanese engineering firm Nippon Koei Co Ltd, the supervising consultant hired by the Cambodian government to oversee the rehabilitation project, conducted its investigation in December after TSO-AS & Nawarath failed to submit a monthly environmental report in November.
The report was filed to the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation and the ADB early this year.
The allegations against TSO come amid scandal over the Kingdom’s national railway.
Questioning transparency
Australian logistics firm Toll Group, which holds a 30-year operational lease for the rail with Royal Group of Companies, last week informed the Cambodian government of its intention to suspend service as a result of significant delays in TSO’s reconstruction, the Post reported.
Site monitors found that the southern line between Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville port was 51.9 per cent complete as of December.
The northern line, which is broken into two sections, was only 3 per cent complete from Phnom Penh to Sisophon and 35.4 per cent complete from Sisophon to Poipet, on the Thai border.
Insiders have said that contractual issues between TSO and the Cambodian government have been a main reason for the delays.
TSO country head for Cambodia Claude Petit, however, when reached early yesterday by phone shrugged off that speculation.
“In a project, there are always contractual issues,” he said. “I won’t say anything on that.”
Petit also rejected claims that the delays were out of proportion with what he said was a complex project, claiming there were “a lot of reasons” for the broken deadlines.
He declined to offer specifics of those reasons, however, saying only “it seems to be a problem for Toll”.
When asked if Toll’s withdrawal as a result of the setbacks would prompt the project’s partners to call into question the integrity of TSO’s work, Petit said “let them do it”.
Petit could not be reached yesterday evening for comment on the Nippon Koei report.
Illuminating hazards
Nippon Koei’s report highlights a number of health and safety hazards present at TSO’s sites, namely insufficient sanitation facilities for workers and a lack of protective equipment.
The “Kampot station [has an] existing toilet in [an] old building, but TSO did not allow the workers to use it, the [wash closet] in station building was locked,” the report states.
TSO does not provide clean water to many of the camps, and workers either have to buy their own clean water for bathing and drinking, or use the unsanitary water sources available to them, the monitoring team found during their December inspections.
The report states that workers along the southern line had not been provided with safety gloves or masks, but also infrequently wore the safety helmets and boots they had been issued to them.
Philip Bulmer, Nippon Koei deputy project manager for the southern line, declined to answer questions yesterday on what he said was a “confidential” report.