The Eswatini Rail Link (ESRL) project is on track to advance economic development and intra-African trade, the developers noted in a statement on October 12.
The project is a joint inter-railway strategic initiative between Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) and Eswatini Railways (ESR) to create a dedicated general freight business (GFB) corridor for Transnet, while providing much-needed additional capacity for ESR.
The project entails the construction of a 150-km-long new railway link between Lothair, in South Africa, and Sidvokodvo, in Eswatini, including the upgrading of existing lines, one being the line from Ermelo to Lothair and the other being the line from Sidvokodvo to the logistics hub of Richards Bay, in South Africa.
The developers noted that the Eswatini Rail Link project would create jobs and business opportunities.
It is anticipated that about 3 400 construction-related jobs will be created in South Africa and 2 700 in Eswatini.
Long-term employment arising from train operations and maintenance extends to an estimated 500 jobs in South Africa and 300 in Eswatini.
The project is also expected to help develop the skills of the people working on the project and in surrounding communities.
Moreover, it is expected to be a catalyst for economic development, improve regional integration and promote intra-African trade.
One of the major ongoing activities is acquiring the land needed for the new rail link to be built, noted the developers.
On the Eswatini side, progress achieved includes the acquisition of seven of eight land parcels on title deed land and the relocation of some 506 graves on Eswatini Nation Land.
The planning for the resettlement of the 235 project-affected households is at an advanced stage, with several activities ongoing or due to begin, as outlined below.
Assets to be compensated have been agreed and signed for by at least 90% of project affected persons (PAPs).
Replacement or alternate resettlement sites have been secured for about 40% of the PAPs.
Draft plans for replacement houses have been prepared for consultation with the PAPs.
Plans for the provision of basic infrastructure, including water, roads and electricity, besides others, to resettled people are at an advanced stage with talks initiated and ongoing with utility companies.
A list of draft or proposed corporate social investment projects has been prepared for consultation with affected communities.
Resettlement task teams have been established to facilitate meaningful consultation with PAPs and a smooth resettlement process.
Lines or channels of communication have been established with community leadership, regional administrators, government and other key stakeholders and regular consultations are held.
On the South African side, progress achieved includes that 100 graves have been exhumed and relocated; a socio-economic assessment study of existing skills in the Mpumalanga region has been completed; the purchase of some 506 ha of land required for project purposes is at an advanced stage; plans to resettle affected households are at an advanced stage; and continuous engagements are being held with all stakeholders.
The new rail link is being prepared for bankability and is anticipated to start soon after resettlement is completed and funding is secured.
The two railway operators are working on a financing model for the project. Many potential funders have shown appetite to fund the project, noted the developers.