Tazara receives US$42 million railway funding from China

Tazara trainTanzania and Zambia have received US$42mn from China for the upgrade of their joint Tazara railway

The 1,860km railway that connects the two countries, stretches from the Indian Ocean Port of Dar es Salaam on Tanzania’s coast to New Kapiri Mposhi in Zambia. 

Zambia is a landlocked country and the railway line is crucial to its economy. Operated under Tanzania-Zambia Railway Authority (Tazara), the line has been instrumental in opening up Zambia’s international trade as well as boosting economic activities in southern Tanzania’s region of Mbeya.

Funding from China will be used to complete 12 new projects which includes the supply of four new main locomotives, two shunting locomotives and rescue and lifting equipment. Other projects will address the supply of track trolleys, assorted spare parts and training staff.

The two countries recently pledged to provide funding to the struggling railway to revamp its operations and settle outstanding terminal and pension for its workers. 

The latest statistics showed that Tazara has the capacity to transport five mn tonnes of cargo and three mn passengers annually. However, tonnage has reduced over the years from a high of 1.2mn tonnes in the 1992/3 period to 339,094 tonnes in the 2011/12 year and just 793,231 passengers in the last financial year.

Currently, there are only 10 main line locomotives operating along the entire line.

“We need to ensure that Tazara is able to provide guaranteed service, acquire new engines and maintain the existing ones”, observed Harrison Mwakyembe, Tanzania’s minister for transport.

Once fully upgraded, Tazara’s capacity will be improved by doubling the number of locomotives in operation by the year 2015. The upgrade of the Tazara railways is in line with the anticipated improvement of rail services under the East African Community (EAC). With 7,363km of rail lines, the East African Community (EAC) requires US$29bn to revamp and upgrade the existing dilapidated infrastructure.

Of the total length, only 6,334km are currently active, with many extensions abandoned, as business moved to more efficient road transport. Most of the systems in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania are metre gauge although the Tanzania to Zambia line system is cape gauge.

“ Rail transport contribute less than 10 per cent of the required heavy and bulk freight transportation even with network concessions,” observed Dr. Richard Sezibera, the EAC secretary general at a recent function.
This, Dr Sezibera noted, is causing stress and shortening the life of East African roads as cargo haulage move to roads with increased business among the regional states.
With this in mind, the EAC has sought a US$1.8bn grant from the African Development Bank (AfDB) to acquire required capacity at the Secretariat to impact the EAC Railway Master Plan for priority projects.

Recently, the first disbursement of US$428,000 out of an anticipated US$1.8mn for the railway sector enhancement project was released in Arusha, the EAC headquarters.

Dr Sezibera said that the money will be used in the feasibility study for the design and transformation of the rail system.

“The study will allow member states of the EAC to develop and improve efficiency of the railway sector as the whole transportation sector is characterized by very high road transport costs of bulk cargo,” said AfDB regional director for East African Resource Centre (EARC) Gabriel Negatu.

According to the EARC, the Northern Corridor to the Mombasa to Nairobi to Kampala rail line is currently operating at just 75 per cent of the original design capacity.

The line, run by the Rift Valley Railways (RVR) has faced huge challenges as it undergoes rehabilitation of existing infrastructure with new rolling stock and operating equipment being purchased. In this line, the major under-performing links are Jinja to Kampala and Tororo to Pakwach with a rolling capacity of only 40 per cent of the track capacity.

In Kenya, some routes like the Nairobi- Nanyuki line have since been closed due to lack of business, as lorries and heavy tracks outcompete rail transport.

Last year, the African Development Bank (AfDB) approved a US$40mn loan for the US$246mn rehabilitation of the Rift Valley Railway (RVR), a key project to reduce transportation costs and increase intra-Africa trade.

With the upgrade, the volume of goods transported is expected to double to 3.3 mn tonnes a year by 2015, while marginal costs are expected to drop by up to 30 per cent.

In the Central Corridor the Dar es Salaam to Kigoma line operated by the Tanzania Railways Limited (TRL) is performing at 51 per cent of its designed capacity.

These corridors are critical for transit of EAC imports from outside and its goods exports beyond the region. They serve the whole of East Africa and eastern DR of Congo.  The idea is to see rail service extended to South Sudan and Ethiopia after 2014.

Officials note that the objective of the project is to improve efficiency and modernize the railway sector in the EAC. The master plan indicates that the traffic on the existing network- RVR, TRL and Tazara have the potential to increase from the current 3.7mn tonnes to over 16mn tonnes by 2030, at an annual rate of 16 per cent growth.

The main challenge for the region’s rail lines is speed restrictions and unavailability of rolling stock.

“While rail transport is considerable cheaper for bulk commodities, slow speed of delivery is poor for businesses especially with slow cargo clearing services at ports such as Mombasa and Dar es Salaam, further increasing operational costs,” said Thomas Ngamau, a Kenyan hardware operator who has previously used the rail service to haul iron rods and cement.

With decrepit lines and old locomotives, many businesses in Kenya have since moved to road transport as improvements have been made to highways in the last 10 years.

In passenger services, Tanzania has invited investors to build a commuter train service in Dar es Salaam to ease traffic jams in the city.

Reli Assets Holding Company Ltd director general, Benhardard Tito, said, the project will be a bigger initiative to boost current railway network easing burden on the roads.

City officials note that Dar es Salaam losses US$2.49mn daily and US$748mn annually in lost man-hours due to traffic jams.

“ The project will include rehabilitating or upgrading the existing track line , strengthening information, improving telecommunication and signaling systems, developing trading services and parking lots on the earmarked network sections”, said Tito.

The present railway network in Dar es Salaam city transverses Ubungo Maziwa – about 12km and Pugu Station –about 20km from the city centre. These are highly-populated suburbs which have stretched the rails service calling for modernization. 

In Kenya, commuter rail services have in the recent years been undergoing modernization around the city of Nairobi.

RVR CEO, Brown Ondego, attributes the rising demand for commuter services to convenience of the rail mode of travel, the affordability of commuting by rail and time saved due to not having to battle traffic jams.

New modern tracks connecting Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) to the city centre - more than 25km are currently being laid to reduce traffic jams on the way to the international gateway.

An ultra-modern rail station at Syokimau just outside JKIA with parking lots and other attendant services is also currently being modernized in this upgrade project.

Mwangi Mumero

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