The joint Tanzania Zambia Railway earlier this month received an operational boost when four new diesel propelled engines and 18 passenger coaches arrived by ship from China at the port in Dar es Salaam. With only twelve mainline engines remaining in service were trains often running late due to breakdowns while the available passenger coaches were aged and often described to be in a shabby state.
The line was established in the early 1970’s and built with the backing of China, which wanted to help Zambia to have a safe and reliable access route to a seaport, after the country’s anti-apartheid policy promoted by founder President Kenneth Kaunda led to South Africa cutting off the supply and export routes to and from Zambia. Once the longest single lane railroad it was also the most expensive foreign aid project ever undertaken by China, costing back then a whopping half a billion US Dollars.
The railway line runs from the port of Dar es Salaam for some 1.860 kilometres into the Zambian town of Kapiri Mposhi, providing railway fans with a scenic journey, often taking days however when there are line disruptions or engine breakdowns. The formal launch took place with both Presidents Nyerere and Kaunda cutting the tapes in 1975 but fourty years of operational shortcomings and mismanagement took its toll on the railway company, repeatedly needed government bailouts and more loans from China. In the heydays of the rail line was a million tons of cargo transported as were a million passengers given a safe mode of travel but this latter figure has in recent years dropped to much less than half a million since road transport has become cheaper and faster and the introduction of air travel from Mbeya to Dar es Salaam by Fastjet drew tens of thousands more away from rail and road due to the affordable fares. Only four long distance passenger trains operate at present and the new wagons and locomotives give rise to hope that added and more reliable services will see train users rise again.
While the previous government under Jakaya Kikwete resorted to piece meal approaches is the new government under recently elected Dr. John Magufuli expected to tackle such infrastructure problems with much more vigour, using a revived TAZARA and a new central corridor SGR line to spur economic growth and development for Tanzania.