The old track was closed in October 2017 to make way for renovations and upgrades to the state railway network. We had feared the demise of this iconic Battambang experience, however rails and sleepers from the original route have been used to lay a new purpose-built 4km track, running through some stunning scenic countryside alongside the scenic Banan hills to keep the bamboo train alive and in better shape than ever. The new track is part of a larger tourism development project by a Khmer businessman.
The bamboo train (or Norrie as it is known locally), made its first appearance in the early 1980s, inspired by the small rail vehicles used by railway workers to carryout track repairs. At the time, having just emerged from years of Khmer Rouge oppression and civil war, Cambodians were struggling to rebuild their lives. With roads in disrepair, coupled with very limited means of transport, the ‘Norrie’ was an ingenious and practical solution. With its launch the population now had an important, albeit rudimentary transport system able to haul produce and people at minimal cost. Although flimsy looking the bamboo construction is actually very strong. Cattle and pigs would be taken to market, tons of vegetables and rice delivered and people could get to clinics. In emergencies, Norrie’s would run at night like makeshift ambulances. To begin with, Norrie’s were people-powered using poles in much the same way as a gondola. Small petrol engines were introduced after a couple of years, similar to an outboard motor. In its heyday during the 80s locals say there was more than a thousand Norrie’s operating along the 600 kilometers of track in the kingdom. Nowadays little more than a hundred are functional in just a few provinces, including beautiful Battambang.