Of Tanzanian Railways and Technical Superiority

Tanzanian President, John Magufuli has a bigger ambition probably than most of his African peers especially in the railway sector. For one, his taste is not less; at times, he is more sophisticated than attested. He is also very careful about the scramble to modernize railways and preservation of the fiscal and financial integrity of his country.

His agenda is no less ambitious than that of Kenya and Ethiopia. However, the President appears to care so much about the tradition of his country, the need to get the best with less, the push to curb corruption in public project, the urge to enforce local content in infrastructural agenda and the overall style of less noise, big achievement. The preceding dictates the Tanzanian approach to the railway expansion plan, a style that painted the country as non-conformist.

From the break from the Chinese loans to the engagement of a Turkish firm for her SGR, Tanzania sets a standard, a drive to execute a railway system that is the best across Africa even while not following the crowd or playing to the gallery. On three grounds, Magufuli is scheming to deliver a far more superior railways system than Kenya, Nigeria, Ethiopia and even Ghana. The grounds are namely speed, durability and technical capacity.

First, there was a break from the Chinese. The government awarded a $1.92 billion contract to Turkish firm, Yapi Merkezi, to design and construct a 422-km (262-mile) high-speed electric railway line. This is part of a major 2,561 km network project that will connect the east of the country to the north.Yapi Merkezi which beat 15 competitors in a tender including Chinese firms. This project is the longest section of a four-phase project that will convert the country’s century-old rail line into a 2,561km standard gauge railway connecting its main port of Dar es Salaam to land-locked neighbours, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, Rwanda and Uganda.

Two,the country did the unthinkable when she deployed military personnel to work with the Turkish firm on the SGR. “We are learning from this very modern technology. We must expand our knowledge so that one day we too can build something like this. We need technical knowledge to get through this project,” says the Chief of Defense Force, General Venance Mabeyo during a tour of the ongoing construction.

“The Tanzania People’s Defence Force (TPDF) has about 57 civil engineers and mechanics involved in the project which includes 5,000 workers. It is a big opportunity for us to be part of the ongoing SGR project. We are ready to send more of our experts to participate in the project anytime in case we were told to do so,” adds General Mabeyo.

Following questions about cost and quality, Rwanda and Tanzania have decided to use electric trains for their 1,320km standard gauge railway (SGR) line which will link to the East African regional line which passes through Kenya and Uganda. The Isaka-Kigali railway line will give the two countries a competitive advantage over Kenya where their SGR was launched last year and is currently operating between Nairobi and Mombasa on diesel. The Chinese government built Kenya and Uganda’s SGR, however, Rwanda and Tanzania have agreed to open tenders for the most suitable financing option.

Operators of the project explained in details while Tanzanian railway may eventually be the best in Africa. The Project Manager of RELI Assets Holding Company (RAHCO), Maizo Mgedzi in a report last year expressed confidence that Tanzania’s Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) which is currently under construction, is expected to be the best railway in Africa upon completion. The Turkish company Yapi Merkezi, in partnership with a Portuguese firm, Mota-Engil Africa, is currently undertaking the first phase of construction of 300 kilometres from Dar es Salaam to Morogoro. According to RAHCO Project Manager Maizo Mgedzi, the construction of the first phase has been completed by 20 per cent so far, since construction activities began in May 2017.

According to the report, the first phase is expected to be completed in November 2019. Tanzania’s SGR is of higher quality compared to those already built in some countries in Africa. Mr. Mgedzi mentioned Ethiopia, South Africa, Kenya and Morocco as among African countries that have built modern railways; but pointed out that the SGR built in those countries had a speed capacity of 120Km/h compared to 160 Km/h of Tanzania’s SGR.

“The SGR we are building will be electrified compared to the SGR built in some African countries which use diesel trains. For example, Ethiopia is now building an electrical SGR and a small part of Johannesburg SGR in South Africa which is also electrified,” he said. He added: “We are also building a railway line capable of allowing 2km long trains to exchange routes at stations while the ones in other countries are less than one kilometer long; so the quality of the railway we are building in Tanzania is of higher quality compared to those in other African countries.”

By considering the quality and durability of the railway, the government has decided to build the concrete standard gauge railway, which is more durable compared to the Meter Gauge railway that is currently in operation. On the advantages of using concrete sleepers on SGR, the project manager said that it would enable trains to carry heavy weight load of up to 35 tonnes per excel whereas the existing Meter Gauge railway cannot exceed 14 tonnes of cargo per excel. He explained further that, concrete sleepers were also able to withstand a speed of 160km per hour passenger train and 120 Km per hour cargo train while the currently operating train cannot exceed 70Km/h.

In addition, the modern railway line will have a 1,435 mm width (equal to 1.435 meters) while the current railway has only 1,000 mm, width which is equal to one meter. “The bigger width of the railway we are building will enable the train to be stable, faster and more secure. So the width of the railway we are constructing is 435 mm more compared to the current meter gauge railway; and when we say ‘gauge’ it means the width of the railway.

Railways have two legs, namely the left and the right legs which are fastened with sleepers, so the width between one rail and the other is called ‘gauge’,” Mr Mgedzi elaborated.

On the quality and standards, the railway constructed in the country will be able to transport between 17 to 25 million tonnes of cargo per year compared to the meter gauge whose capacity is to transport only 5 million tonnes of cargo per year. Regarding the passengers’ train, the RAHCO project manager said that due to the length of exchange routes at stations, the railway can transport a higher number of passengers, but initially, it will transport not less than 1.2 million passengers a year.

The completion of the first phase of the project will facilitate the existence of three passenger trains as the starting point. The trains will be undertaking daily round trips between Dar es Salaam and Morogoro. Mr. Mgedzi told the ‘Daily News’ that one passenger train can operate three to four trips per day between Dar es Salaam and Morogoro , thus making it possible to have a total of nine to 12 trips per day, but the number can be increased as passengers increase.

“When you start with something new, the first step you have is to attract customers by offering them reliable, fast and timely service and above all by avoiding wastage of time along the route; these are important criteria for winning the confidence of customers,” said Mr Mgedzi.

According to the project manager, the modern railway from Dar es Salaam to Morogoro would have six stations Dar es Salaam, Pugu, Soga, Ruvu, Ngerengere and Morogoro.Describing the lifespan of the envisaged railway, Mr Mgedzi said that its bridges had been designed to survive for 100 years, while the rail itself can survive for 40 years before major repairs. On electrical and communication systems, he said that it depended on the type of plant and cables that would be used, adding that the designs were still underway and that information about its lifespan would be released later

-Reports by Yelwa Dosu with agency reports

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