East Africa: Countries move to upgrade railway network

Derailed by a dilapidated public railway system, East African governments will today unveil plans to expand and revamp the region’s rail network..

The major project provides for a vast network of additional railway lines within East Africa and others linking the region to neighbouring Ethiopia, southern Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Magaga Alot, the spokesperson for the East African Community (EAC) Secretariat said consultants have been commissioned to establish the viability of constructing 15 new lines under the EAC Railways Development Master Plan. 

“The feasibility study will outline precise financial and implementation details. We are meeting stakeholders in Nairobi tomorrow (today) to appraise them on the feasibility report,” Elijah Nduati, the deputy secretary for rail transport told the Business Daily. A bidders conference for all potential investors will follow thereafter, Nduati said. Tanzania would be the main beneficiary of the new railway lines should the ambitious project materialise. Besides the Isaka-Kigali line, eight other new railway lines have been proposed within the country, linking Tanzania with other states.

Kenya would have two railway branches connecting it to its closest Horn of Africa neighbours, Ethiopia and Sudan. One of the proposed railway lines will connect Garissa town with the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, while another will be constructed from Lamu to Juba in south Sudan via Garissa.

Under the East African Railways Master plan, Uganda would have four new lines connecting to southern Sudan, DRC and Tanzania. Burundi and Rwanda, which joined the regional bloc on July 1, have been asked to provide their proposals to the Master Plan Study consultants to speed up the work. Already, the Tanzanian and Rwandan governments have confirmed that a railway line would be built to link the Isaka Inland Port in Shinyanga region and the Rwandese capital, Kigali.

By revamping, linking and expanding the rail network, players are moving towards establishing a standardised network throughout the region. Analysts say existing East African railways, built at the dawn of the last century, have fallen into near total neglect and need overhaul. Last week, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni who is the current chairman of the East African Community, directed the EAC to launch integrated regional infrastructure development programmes. President Museveni further directed the EAC Secretariat to present the implementation master plan for the railways project for consideration at the next Summit meeting.

“This is an initiative to replace theone metre-gauge line by a four-metre line.A taskforce is in place and is today expected to brief on a finalised feasibility study,” Mr Nduati said by phone. During a strategic ministerial retreat on Regional Infrastructure Development and Opportunities held at the Munyonyo Resort in Kampala, President Museveni said  the EAC region faced a great challenge regarding its current state of infrastructure.

“There is need to satisfy demand for energy, railways, roads, inland waterways and airlines services, communications networks, as well as ease border crossing and administrative procedures,” Mr Museveni said.  

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