The government of Tanzania is set to construct a railway line from the Indian Ocean port of Mtwara to Lake Nyasa, opening a new gateway for landlocked Zambia, Malawi and DR Congo cargo. Reports Lawrence Kilimwiko
The government of Tanzania, acting through Reli Assets Holding Company (RAHCO), has invited firms to bid for a feasibility study and preliminary design for the construction of a railway line from the southern port of Mtwara on the Indian Ocean to the port of Mbamba Bay on Lake Nyasa, with spurs to the Liganga and Mchuchuma iron-ore and coal deposits in the Njombe region.
The railway is part of the Mtwara Development Project, a scheme undertaken by the governments of Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia to improve transport infrastructure and promote development and cross-border integration in a region spanning the four countries
At present, Dar es Salaam in the north handles most of the port traffic for this region and the aim is to facilitate trade in southern Tanzania and the neighbouring landlocked countries. The southern region of Tanzania has high economic potential due to the discovery of mineral resources but has long been left behind in terms of infrastructure investment.
Mtwara harbour was deepened during the colonial era. In the 1940s, a railway line was built connecting the port to Nachingwea as part of the Tanganyika Groundnut Scheme, which was an attempt by the British colonial administration to cultivate peanuts on a large scale in the region.
The 1,000km railway line will not only contribute to promoting private investment in mineral resource development, but will also enable the utilisation of vast swathes of unused land and other natural resources.
Due to the failure of the scheme the port lost trade and the railway line was closed in 1963. The port was functional but underutilised for many years due to poor transport infrastructure.
However, more recently, increased oil and gas exploration has caused a surge in operations. The 1,000km railway line will not only contribute to promoting private investment in mineral resource development (notably iron ore, coal and natural gas together with limestone and nonferrous metals such as nickel, uranium), but will also enable the utilisation of vast swathes of unused land and other natural resources.
China’s Sichuan Hongda Group has set aside $300m as capital for mining iron ore in Liganga and coal in Mchuchuma in partnership with Tanzania’s National Development Corporation (NDC). A recent study indicates that there are reserves of 428m tons of coal at Mchuchuma and 126m tons of iron at Liganga and Mchuchuma. Developing the central railway The Mtwara–Lake Nyasa railway project comes at time when the government is also constructing a standard gauge railway line from Dar es Salaam to Kigoma and Mwanza to replace the old central railway built by the German colonial power between 1905 and 1914.
The existing Tanzanian railway network comprises two main railways: the cental railway, covering 2,600km between Dar es Salaam and Kigoma on Lake Tanganyika, including a branch at Tabora to Mwanza on Lake Victoria; and the Tanzania–Zambia Railway (TAZARA) built in the 1970s through a $500m Chinese free loan and covering 1,067km from Dar es Salaam to Kapiri Mposhi in Zambia.
Construction of the new line will be undertaken in phases. The first, which is already underway, covers 205km from Dar es Salaam to Morogoro at a cost of TSh2.8 trillion ($1.2bn). Construction work on this portion will include 95km of railway sidings and six stations.
RAHCO acting chief executive officer Masanja Kadogosa says that passenger trains cruising at 160kph should take only two hours to travel between Dar es Salaam and Morogoro, down from the current 12 hours. The cargo trains will travel at 120kph.
Transport experts say that a new central railway is crucial as it is the backbone of the economy, not only for Tanzania, but also for DRC, Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda. The current narrow gauge railway does not meet the requirements of a modern transport system.
RAHCO has floated tenders for the supply of 19 electric locomotives, 14 of which will be cargo trains.
The construction work is being carried out by a consortium between the Turkish construction group Yapi Markezi and the Portuguese construction group Mota-Engil. It is envisaged that it will take 30 months.
Developments in lake transport
Tanzania Ports Authority (TPA) operates both Tanzania’s sea and lake ports. It maintains around 20 ports on the country’s biggest lake, Lake Victoria, in the north, which include Bukoba, Kemondo Bay, Musoma and Nansio. Principal lake ports on Lake Tanganyika, in the west, include Kigoma and Kasanga. Additionally, there are 15 smaller ports along the lake that provide trade connections between Burundi, eastern DRC and Zambia.
The country’s third biggest lake is Lake Nyasa in the south, which has four main ports – Itungi, Mbamba Bay, Liuli and Manda. In addition to the small boats that ply it between Tanzania and Mozambique, the lake is being serviced by two newly built cargo and passenger ships – MV Njombe and MV Ruvuma – built at a combined cost of TSh11.253bn as part of the government’s efforts to ease maritime transport on the lake.
Passenger trains cruising at 160kph should take only two hours to travel between Dar es Salaam and Morogoro, down from the current 12 hours. The cargo trains will travel at 120kph.
The move is also part of efforts by President John Magufuli’s government to ease transport for residents living in Ruvuma, Njombe and Mbeya regions together with their neighbours in Mozambique and Malawi.
According to the TPA deputy director general responsible for infrastructure, Karim Mataka, the two ships have the capacity to haul 1,000 tons of cargo each. Mataka says TPA has also entered into agreement with MS Songoro Marine Transport Ltd to build another passenger ship with a capacity of ferrying 200 passengers and 300 tons of cargo. The project is in its final stages at a cost of TSh9.12bn.
The three ships will also facilitate business expansion between Tanzania and the neighbouring countries of Zambia and DRC.