Tanzania: Great Lakes rail link to circumvent the Serengeti

Tanzania and Uganda have agreed that a proposed joint commercial rail track from Tanga to Arusha and Musoma and onward to Kampala, would not cut through the Serengeti national park, ending 12-months of speculation.

As it stands now, the $1.9 billion railway line to link Tanga port and the Lake Victoria side dock of Port Bell close to Kampala via Musoma port, would route nearly 100 km south of the Serengeti to protect the ecosystem.

Transportation minister Omar Nundu told The Guardian on Sunday that the ambitious railway line project will not touch the Serengeti Park as it was being speculated. “Rest assured that the railway line will be constructed 100km south of the Serengeti national park sprawling expanse,” Engineer Nundu declared.

The Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS), keenly following infrastructure development plans touching on the Serengeti, was quick to applaud the two East African states for demonstrating that they are concerned by the Serengeti ecosystem. It said that planned regional developments will be in harmony with world heritage site requirements.

“We are very glad that the cross border railway line will pass through the densely populated areas to the south of the Serengeti where there is much more commercial potential, instead of the ecological fragile areas in the north,” says Dr Markus Borner, the Africa Director of the Frankfurt Zoological Society.

“We now have a solid development model that gives maximum support to the economic growth of the region without endangering the migration of nearly two million animals in the world-renowned national park,” he declared.

Recently, some environmentalists from East African countries registered their concerns, saying that laying the railway track through the Serengeti would have catastrophic effects on the migration of wild animals.

Commissioning Engineer Nundu and his Ugandan counterpart, Dr Chebrat Slepher recently signed an agreement with the Civil Engineering Construction Corporation of China for the construction of Tanga-Arusha – Musoma railway. Under the multi-million dollar project, the CCEC has been commissioned to conduct a feasibility study and set out ways of implementation of the project.

The entire project is billed at $3 billion, meant to include the construction of nearly 880 kilometers of railway line, the Mwambani port in Tanga, a dock in Musoma and a similar facility at Port Bell. The project will be ready by 2015.

Mr Nundu said that plan also will see the Tanga and Musoma ports dedicated to handle cargo traffic destined to Uganda and southern Sudan. Freight would be conveyed from Musoma dock by ferry to the Port Bell pier — about 350km of transportation in the lake. A rail connection runs via Tororo to Gulu – nearly 600km – on the Pakwach branch.

North of Gulu, a new line of roughly 250km would have to be constructed to Juba, and a further 550km to the Wåo railhead in South Sudan. “Both countries are in agreement to contribute funds for the project implementation,” Nundu specified.

Managing Director of CCEC, Wang Xiangdong made note of expectation to accomplish the feasibility study by April 2012 followed by the construction of the railway line and ports in identified areas. “The construction of the railway line will be enlarged to 1,435mm which is the standard gauge used in other countries and directed by both states” Xiangdong explained.

New Trade Route

Upset by costly logistical challenges between Mombasa and Dar ports, Kampala has been looking for alternative trade routes in the region. Analysts said the Tanga-Arusha-Musoma-Kampala railway line will offer a ray of hope to the Ugandan economy.

Dr Chebrat Slepher, the Uganda minister for Transport said there is no way development can be achieved without clearly defined means of transport. “The most interesting part of this project is that it would reduce congestion at the key regional ports of Mombasa and Dar es Salaam” Dr Slepher said.

Kampala has persistently berated intolerable delays on the core transport corridors and low capacity at Mombasa and Dar ports, as requiring expenditure to put up an alternative facility. Uganda also hopes that the planned Tanga-Musoma-Uganda railway will enable it to circumvent the ageing and inefficient railway line it shares with Kenya.

“The biggest snag for our competitiveness is the poor state of Mombasa port in terms of capacity. It remains a challenge to trade in the region,” Kenya Shippers Council Chief Executive Officer, Gilbert Lagat said.

The Dar es Salaam route, however, remains unpopular among oil marketers because it is longer than the traditional routed through Kenya. “The route… is longer by close to 300 km and that beats logic for traders in terms of cost,” Mr Lagat said.

Figures show that Dar dock merely handles one percent of Uganda’s trade, with 99 percent passing through Mombasa port. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni is on record saying that the Musoma link was ‘the lifeline of the Uganda of his dreams.’

Source: Guardian on Sunday
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