Dar es Salaam. Apart from the grand plans to upgrade the Tanzania-Zambia Railway Authority (Tazara) into a standard gauge railway (SGR), the partner governments also plan to implement a turn-around strategy that would optimize the potential of the track.
This comes as the 1,860-kilometre long track whose construction was established 50 years ago with financial support from the People’s Republic of China has yet to achieve its annual goal of transiting 600,000 metric tonnes of cargo.
Challenged by inadequate recapitalisation and limited working capital, and poor track conditions that have limited speed and volume of cargo, the authority has also failed to generate enough revenue to meet its own running costs.
However, during a visit of Zambia’s President Hakainde Hichilema to Tanzania on Tuesday, the two heads of state, among other things, announced a joint plan to seek funding for the revamp of the railway into SGR so that optimal performance can be achieved.
“In today’s world railways are SGR. So, through Public-Private Partnership (PPP), we have agreed to come up with a project to improve the Tazara railway into that level,” said President Samia Suluhu Hassan during a press briefing at State House in Dar es Salaam.
Considering the existing challenges, SGR, which is considered a long term strategic plan for the track, The Citizen has learnt that there were a series of short-term strategies set by the government to optimise the potential of the track. According to Transport ministry’s permanent secretary Gabriel Migire, some of the initiatives that would be taken to address the prevailing challenges including introducing private operators, legal and regulatory changes to increase efficiency and management.
“This year we signed an agreement with a private operator that brings the total to three as of date and the target is to push the freight traffic from the current 200,000 metric tonnes to about 450,000 metric tonnes annually,” he said.
While issues of capital remain acute for Tazara, Mr Migire said the board of directors that include members from both countries would discuss how to support the authority.
“After board meetings, the recommendations will be presented to the ministry council of both parties (Tanzania and Zambia), whilst encouraging regular engagements between two countries as advised by the heads of state,” he said.
Different stakeholders also aired their views on the revamp plan of this historic track, one of which is opposition politician Zitto Kabwe.
The ACT-Wazalendo leader said while geography has positioned Tanania in a strategic position, President Hassan and her counterpart President Hichilema should first form a team to conduct a diagnostic study on Tazara so that it comes up with implementable recommendations for the transformation.
“Tanzania should, with immediate effect, establish a dry port in Mbeya to serve Zambia, Malawi and south eastern Congo. There must be a CIF (cost, insurance and freight) Mbeya (that for imported goods to those countries Mbeya shall be a port of destination) and FOB (free on board) Mbeya for the exports from those countries abroad,” he noted.
Mr Kabwe noted that the measures would decongest the port of Dar, increase efficiency and spur the economies of Mbeya and neighbouring regions.
Apart from transiting cargo, Tazara railway also transports passengers in its cross-border or interstate trains.
Small settlements and towns along the line, for instance Mlimba, Makambako and Ifakara are some of small towns that have developed tremendously and to some extent still depend on the railway line for transportation.