OF ALL the proposals that have come and gone to build new railways across Africa, the line - or lines - from southern Sudan into Uganda and Kenya promoted by German industrialist Klaus Thormälen must rank among the most far-fetched.

We have remarked before on this incredible scheme (RG 9.04 p507) because it appeared to offer the distant prospect of opening up a landlocked region to trade and development. But at the time we did not hold out hopes of reporting much progress.

Well, the project is still alive, and Thormählen, who runs specialist rail welding company Thormählen Schweisstechnik, appears to have corralled some pretty hefty names. Thyssen-Krupp is standing by as the potential supplier of rail and other track components, whilst Siemens and Deutsche Bahn have apparently expressed interest in providing signalling and staff training respectively.

More significantly, Chinese construction group Covec is lined up to handle the civil engineering for what could be a 4200 km network, far surpassing the 1857 km Tan-Zam Railway built with Chinese help in the 1970s. And we report on p427 that financing for the Juba - Pakwach section has been agreed by the Chinese - it is just conceivable that the line may be built if markets for the oil and other minerals in southern Sudan can be tapped.