Will expansion help Tazara get back on track?

Monday February 03 2020

Commuters and vendors at the Tazara Railway. There are plans to expand the railway to Malawi, Rwanda and Burundi. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


The board of directors of the Tanzania-Zambia Railway (Tazara) wants the two countries to expand the business to Malawi, Rwanda and Burundi.

“We took note of the negative trend in some of the key performance indicators recorded in the first half of the year ending December 31, 2019, and we urge the management to ensure that actions are taken to reverse the trend and put the performance back on track,” says a communiqué issued this past week in Dar es Salaam following Tazara’s board of directors meeting.

Tazara’s latest performance report shows that the company performed below capacity in the first half of the 2019/2020 financial year, transporting just over 56 per cent or 88,529 tonnes of its target cargo volume of 157,734 tonnes, between July and December.

This is a 9.7 per cent drop compared with the same period in 2018 when 98,024 tonnes of cargo moved between the two countries.


Tazara’s priorities are listed to tap more private investment and to link the railway to landlocked neighbouring countries. However, none of these have been implemented.


Last year, Tanzanian President John Magufuli directed that the law establishing the Tanzania-Zambia Railway Authority be reviewed to make the line economically viable.

Tazara’s turnaround depends on when these suggested amendments to the legislation governing its operations will be made.

The Railways Act of 1995 says that neither partner country can inject new investment on their own.

Plans to review the law to accommodate private investors in the running of Tazara started more than four years ago.

The expansion would be financed by China, although the cost of the project was not disclosed and no deal has been finalised yet, a source said.

The deal could see the train run from Dar es Salaam to South Africa serving the entire Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) region as well as the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa).

According to Tazara officials, a substantial recapitalisation injection will facilitate the acquisition of new locomotives, wagons and other equipment to replace the old, while rehabilitating salvageable equipment.

Tazara, which runs from Dar es Salaam to Kapiri-Mposhi in Zambia, was built in 1976 as a symbol of early China-Africa friendship, with the Chinese providing the financing and supervising the construction of a 1067mm gauge.

The railway line design allows traffic operations with other SADC and Comesa countries.

The 44-year old joint enterprise between the two countries has faced hard times in recent years, but improved its freight performance by nearly 30 per cent in just one year.