Angkor Tuk Tuk Travel

History of Norry (Bamboo Train) in Battambang Province, Cambodia

A norry or nori (from the French word for lorry) is an improvised rail vehicle from Cambodia. Lonely Planet describes it as "Cambodia's bamboo train". The trains run at speeds of up to 50 km/h (31 mph) on the 1 m gauge tracks around Battambang and Poipet. A scheduled service run by the Government also operates but is slower and less reliable due to frequent derailments and breakdowns. The rest of the network, originally built by French colonial settlers, is largely abandoned since the Khmer Rouge regime effectively shut it down. In 2006 the BBC reported that there was only one scheduled service a week and it ran at not much more than walking pace.

 Norries have low fares, are frequent and relatively fast, so are popular despite their rudimentary design, lack of brakes, the state of the rails (often broken or warped) and lack of any formal operating regime. Simple construction and light weight mean that the norry may be simply removed from the track – if two meet on the line, the one with the lighter load is unloaded, lifted and carried round the other, and at the end of the line the vehicle is lifted and turned.

There is some precedent for the Norry's popularity. In the 1980s and 1990s due to the civil war in Cambodia trains were led by an armed and armoured carriage; the first carriages of the train were flatbeds used as mine sweepers and travel on these was free for the first carriage and half-price for the second. These options were popular despite the obvious risks.

Norry construction is a cottage industry conducted in trackside villages. It takes around four days to construct one of the vehicles, which have a steel frame overlaid with bamboo slats resting on wheels taken from abandoned tanks.

Originally propelled by hand using punt poles, power is now provided by small motorcycle or tractor engines with belt drive direct to the rear axle, delivering top speeds of 40 km/h or more. Fuel is bought from villages along the route, supplied in glass jars and the flat-bedded vehicles will carry any load that will fit, including people, livestock, motorcycles and rice.

In February 2008 a project was announced to rebuild the railway lines from Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh, Phnom Penh to Poipet and on to Sisophon and the Thai border (a stretch completely destroyed by the Khmer Rouge regime). This was due to be completed at the end of 2009. As of May 2011 this project has only completed from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville.

As of May 2011 the Bamboo train appears to be the only train operating around the Battambang area, which can be observed by the completely overgrown tracks passing though the city. On the outskirts a tourist service operates for $5 per person to a village that has a brick factory. This is overseen by the local Tourist Police.

Bookmark and Share
Flag Counter

Recently Guest Booking:

Guest Name: Vanessa Maund
Country: Australia
City: Sydney
Travel Date: 19/07/2018
Arrival By: Air
Tour Name: Angkor Tour 1 Day