THE NEWS that the Italian government has come up with an R87m loan to help fund rehabilitation of the Matsapha - Mpaka - Goba line (p197) comes as a welcome relief to Swaziland Railways’ Chief Executive Officer Gideon Mahlalela. Freight volumes have been falling sharply, which he suggests may be due to South African exporters diverting traffic to Maputo via Komatipoort and Ressano Garcia rather than using the line through Swaziland.

SR Chairman Brian Fitzpatrick attributes the loss of R13m which the railway posted last year to a string of accidents, not entirely unrelated to the state of the track. He endorses Mahlalela’s view that upgrading of the Mpaka - Maputo line is vital if SR is to compete effectively for international traffic.

A rising star on the Swazi balance sheet is passenger traffic, which has not featured strongly in the past. Mahlalela says tourism in Swaziland has grown significantly following the introduction of Spoornet’s twice-weekly Trans-Lubombo last year. Linking Durban and Maputo via Goela, Mpaka and Goba, the train is generally known within Swaziland as the Lushongolo after a local variety of fat black millipede.