Lusaka - Zambia and Tanzania, the shareholders in the financially beleaguered Tanzania Zambia Railway Authority (TAZARA), are considering concessioning the company for 20 years to revitalise its operations.
The US$500-million railway built with a Chinese loan in the early 1970s to ferry cargo and passengers between the two countries has experienced financial constraints in recent years with the authorities struggling to raise over US$700 million to revive its operations.
Brian Mushimba, Zambia’s Minister of Transport and Communications, has told The Southern Times that discussions are underway with a Chinese railway company seeking to concession the railway liner.
The levels of investment to be ploughed in annually will be agreed and shared equally by the two shareholders.
“The discussions of the concession frameworks will include ensuring the protection of employment of the locals and also the efficiency that the two governments require in a railway company is achieved,” Mushimba said.
The survival plan by the two governments comes in midst of the company seeking recapitalization from shareholders to sustain operations and objectively, have an improved and modern railway at the end of the concession period.
The two shareholders of the liner, known as Uhuru railway, plan to review the TAZARA Act and enable the private sector to inject capital and essentially participate in the running of the company, according to information on the company’s website.
Tanzania’s Deputy Minister of Works, Transport and Communications Atashasta Nditiye said the decision will result in improved operations of the joint railway venture.
Nditiye said the arrangement will see locomotives and wagons for the train service continuously being refurbished for the enhanced transportation of goods and services on the railway line.
“We will be reviewing the Act to allow the private sector to help run TAZARA. We want the wagons and locomotives to be rehabilitated to improve the operations of TAZARA,” said the deputy minister.
Tanzania wants to increase trade volumes with neighbouring countries by improving and developing key infrastructure to connect and facilitate transportation of cargo and people.
The railway company runs on a stretch of 1,860 kilometres, linking the port of Dar es Salaam in East Tanzania with Kapiri Mposhi in Central Zambia.
The company was designed to haul an estimated 5 million tonnes of freight a year, but decades of deficient maintenance coupled with chronic shortages of locomotives and wagons saw the capacity drop to the 600,000 tonnes per year on average, according to data.
Meanwhile, Mushimba says studies have been concluded on the possibility of setting up a mass transit train in Lusaka through an understanding signed recently with a Chinese company to ferry people from the peripheral areas of the Zambian capital, Lusaka, to the central business district, as an efficient way of decongesting traffic on the roads.