TAZARA gets a boost as China signs deal for new equipment


(Posted 03rd November 2014)

Can it be that fifty years have passed already, well, 49 to be precise as this article goes to press as we used to say back then, or ‘being uploaded’ as the modern day version goes? Time sure flies and next year it will be 50 years that the United Republic of Tanzania signed a major friendship and cooperation agreement with the People’s Republic of China, one of the outcomes was the eventual establishment of the TAZARA Railway.

On the 23rd of October 1975 the first trains began rolling in the trial phase of the new line before it was officially inaugurated on the 14th of July 1976 by the founder presidents Dr. Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia and Mwalimu Julius Nyerere of Tanzania.

The mammoth railway was constructed mainly to provide a safe alternative transit route for Zambia to the sea other than through then racist Rhodesia and South Africa, both of which resorted to use blockades to hit back at the Kaunda government for supporting Southern Africa’s fight for freedom. The new railway however also opened up the Tanzanian hinterland by bringing rail access to some key towns previously almost inaccessible. Parts of the sprawling East African country were so soon after independence largely under-developed in those days and extremely difficult to reach overland, which left the expensive flying option for those who could afford to travel in such style.

The two start or end points of the railway, the Indian Ocean port city of Dar es Salaam, also Tanzania’s commercial capital, and Kapiri Mposhi in Zambia, are some 1.860 kilometres apart from each other and constructing the railway over at times outright hostile terrain, involved over 50.000 workers from Tanzania, Zambia and China.

During the recently concluded State Visit by President Kikwete to China was an agreement signed under which China will provide 18 brand new rail carriages and repair and refurbish a further 42 such passenger carriages to facilitate more trains to operate and giving the people in the rural areas the train passes the affordable options of safe travel by train.

Both countries however have been struggling with at times incompetent management and the resulting losses making it necessary to recapitalize TAZARA. This daunting task was made yet more difficult by recent spats between the two over administrative issues which ended up with Tanzania halting cross border traffic of the trains which now, for the time being anyway, terminate at the border, requiring passengers and cargo to change trains after completing immigration and customs formalities.

China had earlier in the year, following agreements signed in the wake of the visit by China’s president to Tanzania, began some rehabilitation work on the rail line itself and on locomotives and rolling stock, which were in a sorry state of affairs.

That notwithstanding does the name TAZARA turn the eyes of rail aficionados moist, as many have a trip over the entire length of the line on their bucket list, a fact now also acknowledged by the Tanzania Tourism Board as the trains provide access to the Selous Game Reserve and other national parks further inland. Rail developments have of late dominated the big deal scene for infrastructure developments in Tanzania, in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi but also South Sudan and Ethiopia with new rail lines being planned and major refurbishments and conversions to standard gauge for existing rail systems like Tanzania’s Central Line.

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