AGREEMENTS were signed in Kinshasa on September 17 which provide for China to fund a major railway project in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The rail element of a US$5bn loan package, signed by Congolese Minister for Public Works & Infrastructure Pierre Lumbi and Chinese Ambassador to the DRC Wu Xexuan, covers construction of a 700 km new line between the river port of Ilebo and Kinshasa. Work will proceed simultaneously on rehabilitation of the 1 067 mm gauge lines linking Sakania and Lubumbashi in the province of Katanga to Ilebo and from Kinshasa to Matadi. The 1 578 km Lubumbashi – Ilebo route is extremely run-down, and the sole remaining weekly through passenger train is timetabled to take six days to cover the distance.

The new and rebuilt lines will be used to haul minerals, principally copper and cobalt, for export to China. Historically, freight from the Copperbelt region has been railed to Ilebo, from where boats take it down the River Kasai to Kinshasa and the Atlantic Ocean.

The loan package also covers revival of the mining business through a joint venture between Chinese and Congolese companies, construction of major roads, hospitals, housing and universities.