Should all go according to projections, Tanzanians will enjoy new rail services by December, when the government expects the first phase of it $1.9 billion standard gauge railway between Dar es Salaam and Morogoro to be complete.
Last week, the country, through the SGR project contractor Turkish firm Yapi Merkezi, in partnership with Portuguese firm Mota-Engil Africa, received the locomotives that will be used for testing, moving it closer to actualising one of sub-Saharan Africa’s few high speed trains.
It also launched the flash butt welding of the SGR in Soga, on the outskirts of Dar es Salaam, a key milestone for the project.
“We are going to start conducting the first trials of these speed trains in July to cover part of the 300km. Once this is done, and we are finished with the final works in the third quarter, then we should start seeing operations by December,” Minister for Works, Transport and Communications Isack Kamwele said.
The tests will be the first for the ambitious project that Dar es Salaam has been pushing since April 2017.
In operation, the trains are expected to reach speeds of 160 kilometres per hour.
The actualisation of this project will make Tanzania the third country in the region to start enjoying modern railway services after Kenya and Ethiopia, which built them with help from the Chinese.
“We have built the embankment, the rail sleepers have been installed and we have now launched the connection of this line to electricity, a first for our country. I am also happy with the knowledge transfer for our people during this project, which will see us gain more engineers and experts in this field,” Mr Kamwelwe said.
Kenya inaugurated its SGR passenger services in June 2017, with the cargo element coming on board in January last year.
Ethiopia on the other hand has two elements, the 32km trans-city tram line inaugurated in January 2017, and the 756km Ethio-Djibouti SGR, which was inaugurated in October 2016.
According to the Tanzania Railways Corporation, the current phase of the project is 60 per cent complete, and with its full completion set for November.
The passenger trains are expected to start service in December, with the cargo trains coming on board at a later date.
The agency said the completion of this line is expected on November 2, allowing it to meet its December operationalisation timelines.
“In the first phase of the project post December, there will be three passenger trains, making daily round trips between the two cities, which is lower than the maximum 12 trips envisioned, once the project goes into full throttle,” the agency said.
Meanwhile, Kenya which had planned to launch the second phase of its SGR between Nairobi and Naivasha in August, has suffered a set back after failing to secure funding from China.
The extension of the 120km Nairobi-Naivasha SGR line was pushed from next month, even though the project is now 90 per cent complete with various passengers terminus ready.
Kenya will now revamp its metre-gauge railway to Malaba, after securing a $400 million loan from China.
“We have agreed to work on upgrading the metre gauge railway as the priority so that once the current construction between Nairobi and Naivasha is complete in August, then we can evacuate goods to Malaba on time,” Kenya’s Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia said, adding that the new upgrade works will start in August this year.
This development puts the brakes on Uganda’s hopes of getting a modern railway to transit its goods through Kenya.
The cargoes will now reach Naivasha, get evacuated by trucks to the new metre gauge before they eventually move to Malaba and onwards to Kampala and beyond.
“We will be building a new 43km link from the Naivasha station, where the SGR currently ends, to the old metre gauge station so that the transporters can link up there,” said Mr Macharia, possibly signalling added costs for road haulage that importers will have to live with.
This new work will be funded by private contractors, who will also build the new line connecting to the SGR at a cost of $210 million, said Mr Macharia.
Last week, Uganda’s Works and Transport Minister Monica Azuba, visited Kenya where she met Mr Macharia and held discussions on the latest change in the SGR politics.
“For now, we are happy with Kenya’s land offer in Naivasha, and we hope to see it during our tour, which will proceed all the way to the Malaba border,” Ms Azuba said, declining to be drawn on the latest SGR debacle.
In March, during a visit by Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta announced that Kampala would be allocated land in Naivasha to construct a dry port.
Ms Azuba however said that Uganda had raised concerns over a possible rise in transport costs should the trucking between the two railways lines last for long.
“There is that gap but I hope we will work out modalities to see that our transporters are not disadvantaged both in terms of cost and time in trans-shipping between the metre gauge railway so that it is a win-win situation for both of us,” she said.
According to Ms Azuba, Uganda is already upgrading its metre gauge railway line from Malaba to Kampala at a cost of $170 million. The country plans to upgrade two lines, Malaba-Kampala and Tororo-Gulu.
—Additional reporting by Njiraini Muchira