Government plans North-South railway

Mozambican Transport Minister Paulo Zucula on Wednesday told the country’s parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, that the government is committed to building a new railway line linking northern and southern Mozambique.

Answering questions from deputies about how to improve the transport system, Zucula pointed out that, under colonial rule, all the major railway lines that were built ran from east to west, serving the interests, first of the Boer Republic of the Transvaal, and later of British colonies such as Rhodesia and Nyasaland (today’s Zimbabwe and Malawi).

To make matters worse, these lines were designed for small amounts of cargo, and built with short sections of rail and wooden sleepers, which limited the speed of trains and increased the risks of derailment.

Only three small lines in Zambezia, Inhambane and Gaza provinces, none of them more than 140 kilometres long, served exclusively Mozambican purposes. These lines were completely isolated from each other, and today none of them are functioning.

Zucula said the government’s strategy is not simply to upgrade the existing east-west lines, but to build a new north-south rail backbone, with road and rail connection to the ports. The smaller lines – from Quelimane to Mocuba in Zambezia, or from Xai-Xai to Chicomo in Gaza – would be rebuilt, but as part of the north-south project.

“The government has not abandoned these railways as some people claim”, the Minister stressed. “They will be rebuilt with greater capacity, and not with the same rails and sleepers as in the past. Putting the lines back with the same characteristics as they used to have, and without connecting to anything would be a lack of vision and a waste of resources”.

“Yes, they will be rebuilt, but with modernizing features and connected to the north-south line, and to the existing ports and new ports that will be built”, he pledged.

A viability study had already been concluded on one stretch of the north-south line, from Nhamayabue, in Tete province, to Mutuali, in Nampula, which is on the existing line from the port of Nacala to Malawi. The Quelimane-Mocuba line would be incorporated into this stretch, said Zucula, and currently the government is looking for funding to start the work.

Jose Manteigas, a deputy from the main opposition party, the former rebel movement Renamo, claimed that Zucula had contradicted former Prime Minister Luisa Diogo who once told the Assembly that the Quelimane-Mocuba line would not be economically viable.

“The line has been totally dismantled”, exclaimed Manteigas. “For decades it served the people of Zambezia. Now you (Zucula) are lying to Zambezia when you say that the idea is to rebuild the line”,

Manteigas omitted one crucial detail – the line stopped functioning in the early 1980s, when it came under Renamo attack during the war of destabilisation. Renamo successfully cut off all overland transport between the port of Quelimane and Mocuba, with attacks on both the railway and the road between the two towns. As a result German equipment intended for a gigantic textile factory planned for Mocuba simply rusted on the dockside at Quelimane.

Diogo’s remark about the viability of the line concerned the idea of rebuilding it as an isolated 120 kilometre stretch of railway, and not the current project of incorporating it into a north-south line.

As for the existing lines, Zucula claimed several success stories. The Ressano Garcia line from Maputo to South Africa now had the capacity to carry 14 million tonnes of traffic a year, including five million tonnes of South African coal and magnetite which is exported from Maputo.

For the first time, trains now carry vehicles along this line. Just a year ago, vehicles imported by Mozambique were unloaded at the South African port of Durban and taken by road to Maputo. Now the situation has been reversed: large ships can dock in Maputo, thanks to the dredging of the access channel, and so vehicles are unloaded in Maputo – not only for Mozambique, but also for the northern regions of South Africa, reaching their destination along the Ressano Garcia line.

The Maputo-Swaziland line had also been rebuilt, and was now, Zucula said, carrying passengers with greater comfort, speed and safety. The Sena line in central Mozambique was now carrying coal exports from Tete province to the port of Beira and ran regular passenger services from Beira to Marromeu (on the south bank of the Zambezi).

But he admitted there had been no improvement in the Machipanda line, linking Beira to Zimbabwe. That was because the entire Beira rail system had been farmed out to a consortium headed by the Indian companies Rites and Ircon International. “This consortium failed to comply with many of its contractual obligations”, said Zucula. “It did not conclude work on the Sena line within the agreed deadlines, and did not even touch the Machipanda line”.

But Zucula had some good news – the complex procedure of terminating the contract with Rites and Ircon was finally reaching its end. “Right now, a government commission is in Beira taking back control over the Machipanda and Sena lines”, he said. “The government will now begin to rehabilitate the Machipanda line and improve the capacity of the Sena line”.

As for the ports, Beira, Maputo and Quelimane had all benefitted from major dredging operations. Beira and Maputo can now receive Panamax ships with a capacity of 60,000 tonnes. Previously the limit had been 40,000 tonnes.

Alongside improvements in the port went the revival of coastal transport. The first two ships that will ply up and down the Mozambican coast have arrived in Maputo, and a third is on its way, Zucula said.

Two of these each have a capacity to carry 750 tonnes. The third is a smaller vessel that can take 70 passengers and 50 tonnes, and will be used mostly on the route between Quelimane and the small town of Chinde, at the mouth of the Zambezi.

Post published in: Africa News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *