Cargo on Train Competition in Africa By Allan Olingo


Ethiopia and Tanzania have raised the stakes in the competition for cargo business in the region by introducing electric trains.
Tanzania has put out a tender for the supply of electric locomotives, 14 of which will carry cargo.
Ethiopia has inaugurated its 756km $4 billion electrified rail connecting Addis Ababa to Djibouti.

While Kenya’s diesel-powered cargo train took its maiden trip on the standard gauge railway to Nairobi from the port of Mombasa carrying 216 containers on January 1, Ethiopia inaugurated its 756km $4 billion electrified rail connecting Addis Ababa to Djibouti.

And recently, Tanzania, through its state-run railway firm Reli Assets Holding Company (Rahco) put out a tender for the supply of electric locomotives, 14 of which will carry cargo. Tanzania has set aside funds for the purchase of the engines and carriages.

“It is intended that part of the proceeds of the funds would be used to cover eligible payment under the contract for supply, testing, commissioning and training of rolling stock for the SGR railway system to operate in the Tanzania central railway corridor,” reads part of the advertisement announcing the tender.

Dar is seeking the supply, testing and commissioning of the electric locomotives for freight trains and five electric multiple units. The railway firm is also looking for the supply of three electric locomotives for departmental trains, 15 first-class coaches and 45 economy-class coaches.

To supplement the electric locomotives, Tanzania is also looking at receiving two diesel locomotives for freight trains, 600 flat wagons, 500 box wagons, 200 oil tankers, 50 bulk wagons, 70 gondola wagons, 50 ballast hoppers and 50 double stack container wagons.

Last February, Tanzania awarded Turkish firm Yapi Merkezi and Portuguese firm Mota-Engil a $1.2 billion contract to build the 205km first phase of its railway line, which will run from Dar es Salaam to Morogoro and is expected to be completed by October 2019.

The design of the railway will include the electric road element with a speed of 160kph for passenger trains, and allow for diesel engines with a speed of 120kph for the cargo trains.


Running the electric railroads will however depend on the availability of electricity in a region that still complements its own sources of power with imports.

Tanzania has an available power generation capacity of about 1,500 MW, against a demand of 1,352 MW. The country is banking on the development of its vast gas find into electricity to increase its capacity and also provide a dedicated electric line for the SGR network.

“Jointly with Ethiopia, Tanzania re-opened the bids in August last year for the Rufigi Hydropower project at the Stiglers Gorge, which will inject more than 2,200MW into the national grid once completed over the next two years. We will soon announce the tendering. We are also in the last stages of the Kinyerezi natural gas plant, which should now inject 240MW next month and reach a peak of 3,000MW by 2022. We expect these power projects to be used to power the railway line,” a senior government official told The EastAfrican.

Ethiopia is also banking on its Grand Renaissance Dam project to electrify its line with Djibouti. Currently it has a dedicated 160MW for its 32km Addis Light Rail.

“This is ambitious for the region as close to 60 per cent of their combined populations still remain without electricity. Several power utility firms, both in Tanzania and Uganda, have perennial challenges. This electrification can only be successful with a population that is fully connected,” said Ahmed Salim of Teneo Intelligence, an analytical firm covering the region.


Kenya, with the 472km Mombasa-Nairobi SGR already in operation, plans to upgrade to an electric line in four years’ time, at a cost of $480 million. Kenya currently has a generation capacity of 2,250MW against a demand of 1,640MW.

Kenya’s transport cabinet secretary James Macharia said that the electric addition will cost 15 per cent of the money already spent on the construction of the 472km line between Mombasa and Nairobi.

“We didn’t want to construct an electric line yet we don’t have a dependable source of electricity. So we had to construct a diesel locomotive line with the provision of upgrading it,” Mr Macharia said.

Ethiopia-Djibouti SGR

The Ethio-Djibouti standard gauge railway project boasts of more than 30 electrical locomotives supplemented by six diesel engines and 1,172 boxcars. Out of these, 1,100 are freight wagons, 41 locomotives (35 electric and six diesel) and 30 passenger coaches. The railway line is serviced by a 27.5kV overhead line.

“This is the first trans-boundary and longest electrified railway on the African continent. We have reached an important milestone in our infrastructure development that will now see efficient and timely movement of goods connecting the port of Djibouti to the industrial parks in Ethiopia and beyond,” Ahmed Shide, Ethiopia’s Minister for Transport. said.

The cargo trains will travel at 100kph with a maximum hauling capacity of 3,500 tonnes. The country is also planning to interlink the Adama and Dire Dawa Industrial Parks, Modjo dry port and the Awash Oil Depot to the lines.

“Freight times will be reduced 10 hours for the 700km line from the three days on the meter gauge. This will improve the movement of goods between the port and the dry depots,” Mr Shide said.


Uganda, which is also planning to start construction of its first phase of the SGR next year, says it could go the electric way.

“We have been assured of enough electricity from the ongoing energy projects at Karuma and Isimba. This decision was also based on the costing factor given that, after completion, the long term costs of operation and maintenance will be cheaper than diesel,” Uganda SGR project co-ordinator Kasingye Kyamugamba said.

A report from Uganda’s Ministry of Works and Transport shows that the country will use Chinese Class One standards to build its electric railway.

“Gauff Ingenieure estimate without locomotives and rolling stock was $2.4 billion for an electrified railway system and $2 billion for diesel system. The contract price for the same electrified route based on the Chinese standards was negotiated to $2.04 billion without rolling stock and locomotives. The price of $2.3 billion usually quoted includes locomotives, rolling stock and provisional sums. It’s important to note that Chinese standards are an improvement of AREMA standards and are safer, robust and durable,” the report says.

Uganda is expecting its power generation to reach 1500 MW in 2019, after the two dams injects an additional 783MW (Karuma and Isimba Hydropower Projects at 600MW and 183MW respectively).

The country’s current peak power system demand stands at 500 MW against an installed generation capacity of 851.5MW, and the total power generation stands of 535MW.

*Source: The East African

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