Dave Killion — July 24, 2012
There is a railway in Cambodia on which a passenger train ran once a week, taking 16 hours to complete a journey done by a bus in 5 hours. That was until last year, since when the passenger train has stopped running at all. Now, anyone interested in traveling by train must rely on the norry –
“A norry is basically a breadbox-size motor on top of a bed-size bamboo platform on top of two independent sets of metal wheels—all held together by gravity. It’s built from bamboo, old tank parts and motors ripped from broken motorbikes, rice harvesters and tractors. To accelerate, the driver slides the motor backward, using a stick as a lever, to create enough tension in the rubber belt to rotate the rear axle. Though no two norries are identical, a failing part can be swapped with a replacement in a few seconds. Norries are technically illegal but nonetheless vital and, if you know where to look, ubiquitous.”
SInce the rails are state-owned and norry operation is illegal, you might think that co-operation between competing norry operators would be impossible. You might think that the strongest would make adherence to rules a wishful fantasy. You might think that solving impasses was possible only through violence. You might think all that, but the norry operators do not –
“A bit up the track, I saw four men loading a norry with the parts of a much bigger one built out of two-by-fours. The driver told us that the big norry was used to carry lumber from Pursat to Moung Roessei, Phnum Thippadei and Battambang, but that it was cheaper to transport the big norry back to Pursat on the smaller one. He said we could join them for the roughly 50-mile trip, no charge, though I insisted we pay, $10 for the two of us.
Less than a mile out, a norry stacked high with timber came clacking at us head-on. Fortunately, norry crews have developed an etiquette for dealing with such situations: the crew from the more heavily laden norry is obliged to help disassemble the lighter one, and, after passing it, reassemble it on the track.”
Such is the world of anarchy; violent conflict is bad business, so peace prevails where ever coercive government doesn’t prevent cooperation.
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