Cambodia: Norry, the bamboo train

The bamboo train, called “Norry” in Khmer, is an original form of rail transport that can be seen on the railway that crosses through Cambodia.
A norry consists of a bamboo tray about 2.5 x 4 meters assembled with two axles similar to heavy weights and powered by a small engine. He runs on the Cambodian railway.
The platform is large enough to allow the transport of fifteen people or one and a half tones of merchandises.
The journey is made in a series of jolts, bumps … but with a speed up to 50km/h! So the brake system consists of people putting the feet on the wheels.


A norry in the cambodian countryside


Assembling and dismentling of a norry


Norry’s engine


The norry history:

Initially, Norry were used by engineers for maintaining the tracks.
Their use dates back from the 1970s.
At that time, Norry were not equipped with engines and in order to move their platform along the track, passengers used long bamboo sticks in the manner of an oar.
During the Cambodian civil war in the 80s, norry have been used for another reason. The railway crossing Cambodia from east to west then allowed Cambodian troops to be transported quickly to conflict areas.
At this time the villagers also began to “tinker” their own norry in order not to be annoyed by the bad state of the roads. It is from abandoned tanks that the axles were built.
The last major Norry evolution is more recent: the human energy has been replaced by small boat engines placed on the bamboo tray and making the axles rotate by using a belt.


The cambodian railway track


Encounter on the track


Traffic rules:

For a special transport mean, special traffic rules are needed.
There is only one railway in Cambodia and this one is 630 km long. It starts from the Thai border, goes through Phnom Penh, the capital, and reach the south coast of the country.
This single track is used on more than 270km by Norry, that use it in both direction.
When two norry meet, the less loaded has to keep the rail clear. In that purpose, we compare the number of passengers of each vehicle, also the presence of a motorcycle gives priority to norry that carry it.
They also need to disassemble the norry to avoid a collision with the freight trains…
Freight trains do not run faster than 20km / h and only run 2 or 3 times a day. So they do not represent a real danger to norry users who dismantle their transportation mean and lay it along the railway in less than two minutes!


Norry driver


What is the future of bamboo train:

Since 2009, the suspension of the rail way between Phnom Penh and Battambang has increased the use of bamboo trains for passengers and goods transportation.
In addition, this train is now a tourist attraction, all the tourists who are visiting Battambang and Pursat, the two major “norry stations” want to try the “Bamboo Train”.
However, an agreement signed between the Government, the Royal Railways of Cambodia and some private companies plans for 2013 to renovate and modernize the railway system, allowing trains to run at “high speed”.
Sharing the road with Norry will besoon compromised.
However, despite the fact that driving a norry is already considered as illegal (Norry drivers sometimes give some bribes to the police to be able to move), the Norry keep serving the people and delighting the tourists.


All aboard!


And now?
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