Trans Africa set to link Jo'burg and Kampala by rail
THE Trans Africa Railway Corporation, in which Spoornet has a major stake, has completed negotiations for the establishment of a rail link from Johannesburg to Kampala in Uganda.
The link is expected to "revolutionise commodity trade in Africa".
The new rail line will compete with shipping services which run from Durban, stopping at various ports on the way to Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania.
Phase one of the project will cost Trans Africa about R60-million and include the purchase of 15 locomotives at for R1-million each. A further 200 wagons will be bought for R25-million.
The locomotives and wagons will be refurbished and the bogeys converted to the narrower 1m gauge used on lines north of Zambia by Transnet subsidiary Transwerk. Railways below Tanzania, built to British standards, operate on a 1.067m gauge.
The most significant aspect of the project is a transhipment "station" at Kidatu, 250km southwest of Dar es Salaam, where the wider guage line from Livingstone in Zambia meets the narrower line from Dar es Salaam to Kampala. At this point the lines are only 22m apart and a R15-million transhipment terminal will transfer containers, by crane, from one line to the other.
This will allow continued movement of goods to the Democratic Republic of Congo, the mineral-rich area south of Lake Victoria, across the lake on an existing ferry service to Kampala and eventually to Nairobi. Goods will also be moved by road to Burundi and Rwanda.
A major shareholding in Trans Africa is held by Comozar, in which Spoornet and Belgium group Transerb have a joint holding. Also involved are individuals Mark Gordon and Tony Kay.
"Towards the end of last year we negotiated a 20-year agreement with all the railway groups involved through the Southern African Railway Association, of which SA, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia are members. "This is the first time that such an agreement has been negotiated by an individual company in Africa," says Gordon.
Comozar is also bidding for the operation of the Regifercam Cameroonian railway, has a 7.5% stake in Interferra Logistics in Brazil and will bid for a concession to operate the Malagasy railway and the Congo-Ocean railway.
"When the Trans Africa project is completed by April or May, new markets will open for the 12 members of the Southern African Development Community. In the past three years, trade between southern Africa and the rest of Africa has trebled and it will now be able to reach mineral-rich areas in Tanzania," says Gordon.
Six locomotives have already been converted and are operating internally on the Tanzanian line.
Gordon says that although rail costs will amount to only 10%-20% below shipping tariffs, the route from Johannesburg to Kidatu should take no more than a week, with transhipment to Kampala taking a further week.
In contrast, freight from Johannesburg via the sea route is first railed to Durban, tranferred to a vessel, shipped to Dar es Salaam, and then transferred again onto rail. The many inefficiencies at ports along the way mean that shipments can take longer than six weeks, says Gordon.
When fully operational in the next few months, the twice-a-week journey is expected to be fully loaded on the route north, returning south with a 10% loading.
Gordon, who claims to have received several enquiries from major SA groups, is already looking at expansion, funded through a listing in Tanzania or equity purchases, if the existing rail network proves insufficient as new markets open and demand increases.