Rwanda/Tanzania: Isaka-Kigali rail on track

Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) – The construction of the Kigali-Isaka rail route could start soon following last week’s presidential announcement that the construction of the route would begin this year.

Briefing a six-man delegation of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF), the American firm that advises the  chief stakeholders of the project including the Rwandan government President Kikwete said  the project previously projected to take five plus years, would start towards the close of this year. The initial project costs, before a lull engulfed its future, had been put at US $ 2.7million and the African Development Bank (AfDB) the main financier.

The railway will link the commercial capital of Rwanda, Kigali with a dry port in central Tanzania, the Isaka dry port. The dry port was commissioned in 1999 to speed up delivery of the landlocked country's transit goods that pass through Tanzania. A complimentary 480-km tarmac road Isaka-Lusahunga is already in place. The Rwandan government has a plot at Isaka which will provide extra storage space for containers and conventional imports/exports.

The dry port arrangement is such that Rwandan import goods upon their arrival at the Dar es Salaam port which is 1000 km distance from Kigali are taken in wagons and transported to Isaka where they undergo the mandatory Customs clearance. Isaka is closer to Kigali compared to Dar es Salaam where in the past the Customs clearance of the goods was done but cumbersomely. The advantage of using Isaka as a destination point and not Dar was also to relieve Rwandan importers to travel all the way to Dar to chase for their merchandise.

When Isaka was given a dry port status in 1999 it was hoped that cargo destined for Rwanda would reach Rwanda within 48 hours instead of a week as was the case then.              A dry port is a facility where the mode of transport changes from one to another, and in the case of Isaka, it is from rail to land transportation. Isaka also functions as a marine port on land, and, instead of receiving marine vessels, will be served by land-based rolling stock such as trains and trucks.

The Isaka runs a Customs documentation centre for transit cargo which eliminates the need for consignees in neighbouring countries to travel to Dar port, to clear goods shipped in containers under the Combined
Transport Bill of Lading. The Port is strategically located to serve the agricultural, commercial, mining and industrial hinterland of Tanzania, neighbouring states of Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Uganda.

Isaka’s only connection so far to Kigali, Rwanda, is the 480-km tarmac road stretch but is set to compliment a rail which is scheduled to be built later this year. Rail is preferable to road for transporting heavy long hauls which could easily damage the bitumen/tarmac surfaced roads. The Isaka facility has an area of 11.04 acres and a container stacking area of 12,350 square metres -which can handle 360 TEUs (Twenty-foot Unit) containers at a time.

It also has two covered sheds for storing 3,000 tonnes, fork-lifts of various capacities, reach takers and shunting tractors directly moved by train to Isaka. The BNSF Railway is among the top transporters of intermodal traffic in North America, and moves more grain than any other American railroad. It also hauls enough coal to generate roughly 10 per cent of the electricity produced in the United States of America.
Ongoing civil confrontation in Kenya has raised the prospects and viability of the Isaka-Kigali rail project, observers say.

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