LAST MONTH saw the start of work on the second phase of reconstruction of Angola’s 1304 km Benguela Railway, following a 15-year closure because of the civil war. Italy’s Tor di Valle company is just over a year into its barter deal to undertake a US$500m 14-year renovation for 37500ha of eucalyptus plantations (RG 7.97 p432). Project manager Claudio Insenga says mine clearance and basic repairs for operation at restricted speeds will take three years. Tor di Valle is keen to tap potential mineral traffic from the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Shaba province and northern Zambia.

Italian contractor ABC began de-mining the 426 km Benguela - Huambo section on February 24, in the presence of Italian ambassador Paolo Sawnella; 40 km has now been cleared. Tor di Valle’s crews are following eastward, patching up track, stations and bridges. Arrival of the first batch of new material at Lobito port has allowed Insenga to initiate the second phase, in which 100 km a year would be relayed for higher speeds, in parallel with the continuing phase one work.

Over 20000 passengers a day are now using CFB passenger services on the 25 km coastal section between Lobito and Benguela. Occasional trains venture inland to Ganda, Huambo and beyond as work permits. Further east, passengers use freight trains which have resumed between Luena and the DRC border at Luau.

One problem remains in closing the gap. Former Unita rebels have yet to withdraw from their last stronghold, close to the line in the central highlands, as mandated under the 1994 Lusaka agreement. o