Rehabilitation work starts on Nacala railway line

by Patson Phiri  – SANF 06 No 44
Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia are rehabilitating the railway line in the Nacala Development Corridor, which will open a key transportation route for the three countries.

Construction work started in November 2005 but was halted temporarily after persistent heavy rains on the 77-km stretch between Cuamba and Entra-Lagos within Mozambique.

Plans to repair the stretch have been on the drawing board since 2000 when the three governments began sourcing for funds from investors and development agencies to bring the railway line back to life.

The rehabilitation work is being funded through a US$29.6 million loan secured by the three countries from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, a United States-based development agency.

Wilfred Ali, the Nacala Development Corridor coordinator in Malawi’s Ministry of Transport and Public Works, said rehabilitation work was initially slow due to problems in moving equipment after heavy rains washed away culverts on the Mozambican side.

He said Zambia recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Edlow Resources for the development of the Mchinji-Chipata rail link in eastern Zambia, which will be connected to the Nacala railway line.

The primary transport link along the corridor is the railway line linking eastern Zambia, central and southern Malawi, and northern Mozambique to the Port of Nacala on the Indian Ocean.

Historically, the ports of Nacala and Beira were the nearest ports for Malawi and Zambia. This railway line was developed as a concession during the 1970s from Nacala Port to Nampula. It was later extended into Niassa province in Mozambique to serve the rich agricultural areas, as well as to Malawi.

Malawi was supplied primarily along the Sena line from Beira. In view of the shorter route to the sea presented by the Nacala railway line, Malawian traffic began to shift from the Sena railway line to the Nacala line.

The Nacala route was closed in 1984 after the railway line was blown up by former Mozambican rebels. The conflict changed the fundamentals of the transport situation significantly. Both Zambia and Malawi made a shift away from rail to road transport.

Distances were substantially increased as Zambian goods were moved through Dar es Salaam and South Africa. Malawi also shifted transport mode to road, moving its supplies along the Tete road to Zimbabwe and the ports of South Africa.

The road routes from Malawi to Lusaka and via Mbeya to Dar es Salaam then became strategically important for Malawi, but resulted in road transport costs that were exceedingly high.

In terms of the Memorandum of Understanding between Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia, the strategic objectives of the Nacala Development Corridor are to develop adequate, reliable, cost effective, efficient and seamless transport, telecommunications and energy systems, and to foster economic growth through the promotion and coordination of economically viable business in transport, agriculture, fisheries, commerce, industry, mining and tourism.

The corridor aims to foster increased economic activity through the promotion of trade, which in turn would facilitate greater regional integration among the three countries.