RECONSTRUCTION of Angola’s 1304 km Benguela Railway is getting under way in the port of Lobito, following the signing of a barter deal between the government and Italian construction company Tor di Valle. Restoration of the corridor is expected to take 14 years, at a cost of US$500m, although trains should be running throughout by 2000.

Announcing the deal at the end of May, Commerce Minister Vitorino Hossi said the project was ’one of the keys to the reconstruction of our economy, which gives this country a real future’. In exchange for reviving the railway, Tor di Valle has been given exclusive rights to harvest eucalyptus plantations totalling more than 37000 ha. These were laid out to grow firewood for the railway; Tor di Valle plans to export the wood to Europe for sale as pulp. Project Manager Claudio Insenga expects to harvest around 1 million tonnes of wood a year.

South African company Mechem has been awarded a contract to remove landmines from the 400 km Cubal - Kuito section which includes the railway workshop town of Huambo; this was the scene of the heaviest fighting between the ruling MPLA and Unita rebels during the long Angolan civil war.

The Benguela Railway was built to serve the vast mineral reserves of Shaba province in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo; American Mineral Fields has already signed a US$1bn contract with the new DRC government led by Laurent Kabila which will rehabilitate the copper and zinc mines and boost the potential traffic for the revived line. o