REGULAR rail freight services between South Africa and Uganda were launched in mid-December by Tanzania-based Trans Africa Railway Corp. Running from Gauteng province to Kampala, the service is expected to handle 80000 tonnes in the first year. End-to-end time by rail and train ferry across Lake Victoria is 14 days, less than half that required for coastal shipping via Mombasa.

The start-up followed the granting of a 20-year concession to run on Tanzania Railways Corp tracks; TARC will pay a tonne-km tariff which could total R100m over five years. TARC is 48% owned by SA Infrastructure Fund. Other shareholders include Comazar, in which Transnet has a 66% stake.

Key to the north-south corridor is a R20m transshipment terminal at Kidatu, connecting the 1067mm gauge Tazara corridor with the 1000mm gauge TRC network. This was built by Transnet subsidiary Protekon, and uses reach-stackers to transfer a trainload in a few hours.

Trans Africa Uganda plans to open a R32m inland port at Namvanwe, 5 km from Kampala. It is negotiating open access on Uganda Railways to reactivate the Kampala - Kasese line at a cost of R9m to reach a railhead for Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. TARC is also looking to expand into Kenya, to serve Mombasa.

TARC has converted three ex-Spoornet Class 35 diesel locos and 200 wagons to metre gauge, easing a capacity crisis caused by the state of the TRC fleet. The company hopes to haul 250000 tonnes of domestic traffic in Tanzania, and has clinched a five-year contract with Tanga Cement Company to move 150000 tonnes a year to destinations on the line to Kigoma.

Key facts

20-year access in Tanzania

Private consortium has South African backing

80 000 tonnes a year of through traffic