DEADLINE for preselection bids to operate international services over the metre gauge route between Dakar and Bamako is January 8. By the end of the month CPCS Transcom Ltd, which is helping the governments of Mali and Senegal set up an independent company to run passenger and freight trains over the 1240 km route, hopes to have a shortlist for technical offers. Candidates with acceptable technical bids will then be asked for financial proposals, the aim being to have an operating agreement signed by the end of the year. This would see the new company, a public-private venture known as SETI, start up in 2000.

Each government will hold 20% of the capital in SETI, and a private-sector company called Société du Dakar-Bamako will hold the other 60%. Shareholders in SDB will include private investors from Mali and Senegal, staff from Mali Railway and Senegal National Railways, plus overseas investors. The concession will run for 15 years initially, renewable for 5-year periods.

SETI will have many issues to address. Managing the investment needed to bring the line up to acceptable standards will have priority, and the target is to improve the current erratic performance so that wagon turnrounds can be cut from one month to 10 days. Much of the track is in need of attention to reduce the derailments that now dog operations, and CFAFr34bn has been earmarked for this as part of an investment plan worked out with the International Development Agency and other funding agencies.