CONCESSIONED in April 1999, Cameroon operator Camrail returned a profit in its first year. Major participant in Camrail is the Comazar consortium with a 72·1% interest; Comazar is 31·6% owned by South Africa’s Transnet, 30·72% by the South African Infrastructure Fund, 20·4% by the transport group Bollore, and 12·8% by Commonwealth Development Corp.

The company has concentrated on upgrading the metre gauge infrastructure, which remains in state ownership, and has laid 56 kg/m continuous welded rail on the 263 km main line between the capital Yaoundé and the largest city, Douala.

Freight services continue to Belabo, 339 km north of Yaoundé, from where the line runs a further 328 km to Ngaoundere. Poor trackwork, on average 30 years old, still characterises these sections, as well as the 423 km line west of Yaoundé to Kumba and Nkongsamba. Renewal using 56 kg/m rail has begun on the first 40 km, with assistance from the German Development Bank.

Replacement of around half a million sleepers is high on the agenda, with work proceeding at a rate of about 14000 a month. Priority is being given to freight, which accounts for nearly 90% of Camrail’s business, but the company’s 76 passenger coaches are put to good use. A responsible safety department has been created, its aims assisted by radio communication with trains using a modern 60-channel digital network, and colourlight signalling at major stations. It is intended to fit all locomotives with GPS transponders.

Following installation of weighbridges on the road north of Douala, a considerable amount of timber traffic has transferred to rail. Around 145000 tonnes of freight are being moved monthly, compared with 100000 tonnes at takeover. Camrail Managing Director Patrick Claes is aiming at 2 million tonnes a year, of which timber would comprise almost 40%.