China Begins Work on 575km Saharan Railway

China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC) has begun work on a 575km railway through the Sahara desert, between the Algerian iron ore mine at Gara Djebilet and the Moroccan rail system, the South China Morning Post reports.

CRCC is working with Cosider Travaux Publics, a state-owned civil engineer, to deliver the project.

It will begin in the mine and proceed to the Dumiat Industrial Zone in the Béchar region, close to the Moroccan border. It will have 40 stations along the way and so will upgrade the transport links of the province.

Gara Djebilet was opened in July 2022. It is thought to have one of the largest high-grade ore deposits in the world. It’s expected to produce up to 3 million tonnes a year initially, rising to 50 million tonnes by 2026.

China has also agreed to extract the ore and build facilities to carry out research, enrichment and de-phosphorisation.

At present, China imports almost all its ore from only two countries: Australia (79%) and Brazil (19%). As it is responsible for 52% of global steel output – 1 billion tonnes – the geopolitical risks are considerable, particularly in view of Beijing’s strained economic and diplomatic relations with Australia.

Meanwhile, Algiers is hoping that the exploitation of its mineral wealth will reduce its dependence on its oil and gas industries, which presently contribute 19% of its GDP and 93% of its export earnings.

SCMP points out that CRCC has experience of working in the harsh conditions of the Sahara, having spent 16 years building parts of Algeria’s 1,216km East-West Highway.

The project will deepen China’s relationship with Algeria, which stretches back to its war of independence with the French in the 1950s and 1960s. Last year, the two countries signed 19 cooperation deals worth $36bn, including some 6,000km of railways.

Kehinde Olusegun

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