Tanzania-Rwanda railway project in implementation stages

The proposed new railway line to connect Rwanda and Burundi to Tanzania’s port of Dar es Salaam has reached implementation stages.


A train engine in Isaka, Tanzania. A planned railway could see it going up to Kigali and Bujumbura. (Internet photo)

A recent inter-ministerial meeting in Kigali has given the go-ahead for the procurement of a company to carry out a detailed project to start early November.

The Dar es Salaam – Isaka – Rusumo – Kigali – Keza – Musongati railway line is expected ease landlocked Rwanda’s access to the sea, government officials say. When constructed the railway line will espe­cially provide Rwanda with a cheaper alternative route for transporta­tion of bulk cargo from the ports and therefore improve the country’s competitiveness in the region.

Elias Twagira, the director general of the Rwanda Transport De­velopment Agency (RTDA) said that a deal will soon be reached with CANRAIL/GIBB, a Canadian company that carried out the feasibility study, to do a comprehensive evaluation of the project.

The new study will give details about rail alignment, geo techni­cal investigations and the environmental management plan that will show areas of expropriation and rail construction. The project has an estimated cost of US$ 5.1 billion. The African Development Bank has already signed a grant and loan agreement with the three East African countries to finance the project.

A feasibility study conducted by DB International from Ger­many and BNSF from the USA predicts an internal rate of return ranges from 25% to 35%, meaning that the project is economically viable, Twagira said.

He said that the mining indus­try in the region alone would make this railway operation prof­itable by transporting minerals to Dar, and added that to appreciate the importance of such a big proj­ect, one has to look at long-term benefits and not the short-term investment.

Asked how much each coun­try would contribute to the proj­ect, Twagira said this was a joint venture and an investor will have to pay all the needed finances. ‘’Whoever comes to invest in this project will pay all  the money because this is a joint venture be­tween Tanzania, Rwanda and Bu­rundi; if we fail to get the inves­tor, then each country may have to pay its portion depending on the distance,” he explained.

The project entails that Tanza­nia will have to upgrade its 980 km from Dar es Salaam to Isaka and construct a new 360-km line from Isaka to the border with Rwanda. The latter will have to build a new line of 135 km from Rusumo to Kigali, while Burundi will be required to cover 195 km from Keza to Musongati.

Such a big project obviously poses a few challenges. In Rwan­da, famous for its 1000 hills, the topography complicates the construction of a railroad. Yet Elias Twagira said that this has obviously been looked into and that the alignment plan in the feasibility study shows that the proposed track will mainly fol­low valleys and low levels of hill slopes, although occasionally more sophisticated construction work will be required to bypass a mountain. That, he noted, also explains the high cost of the proj­ect.

Another challenge is that the project requires highly skilled manpower that is often very ex­pensive. To solve this problem, Rwanda is looking into recruit­ing a specialist in railway and airport construction to provide timely advice, as well as into up­grading local capacity in these areas.

Last but not least, it might also be feared that being a multi-na­tional project, its implementa­tion is likely to be slow because partner states have to reach con­sensus for every decision. It will be a good test for the EAC spirit of brotherhood.

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