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Benguela revival in prospect

01 Aug 2002

WE HAVE lost count of the number of attempts made to revive Angola's 1302 km Benguela Railway that have foundered because of civil war. Once again, efforts are being mounted to rebuild the 1067mm gauge line from the port of Lobito inland towards the Democratic Republic of Congo, over which ore from Africa's Copper Belt was once hauled for export.

The Southern African Railways Association is taking an active interest. SARA Executive Director Remmy Makumbe recently spent two weeks in Angola assessing what needs to be done, not just to rebuild the Benguela but also to rehabilitate and modernise the 536 km Luanda Railway and the 899 km Moçâmedes Railway in Huila province. After consultations with the three railways and the transport ministry, SARA is supporting plans to rebuild the damaged lines and will help lobby for funds for modernisation, technical assistance and staff training.

For its part, the government has launched the Angoferro Project which formalises the rehabilitation programme. Several donors have been approached for funding, and the government has meanwhile signalled its determination to restore rail service to areas that have been inaccessible for years.

During his visit Makumbe witnessed a formal start on the Benguela rehabilitation programme, and on behalf of SARA he expressed appreciation to the Angolan government for their material and financial support for the three railways 'under the most difficult of circumstances'.

Over 1000 route-km of the Benguela need rebuilding, with restoration of 50 bridges. Another 488 km needs renovation on the Luanda route, and 483 km on the Moçâmedes line.

Eitan Dvir, Chief Executive of the Beitbridge-Bulawayo Railway, took over as SARA President on May 29. Not long afterwards he visited Zambia to finalise a contract worth US$60m to upgrade Zambian Railways' 820 km north-south main line linking Ndola near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo and Victoria Falls at the Zimbabwe frontier. Work is due to take 12 months.

  • On June 26 a Tanzanian Railways Corp passenger train bound from Dar es Salaam to Mwanza suffered what appeared to be a major brake failure on a gradient between Msagali and Igandu, 310 km west of Dar es Salaam near Dodoma. The 20-coach train rolled downhill at steadily increasing speed before colliding with a stationary freight train, killing 281 people and injuring many more. The line reopened in early July.