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 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.