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TAZARA’s first step of 1,000 miles

CHAMBO NG’UNI, Kapiri Mposhi
AMID daunting operational challenges, the Tanzania-Zambia Railway Authority’s (TAZARA) annual freight traffic volumes hit a low of 88,000 metric tonnes (mt) in 2015.
Its wagons in past years were taking more than 100 days to make a return trip on the 1,860 km stretch from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to Kapiri Mposhi in Zambia.
The trains on the other hand were taking 30 days to move on the binational railway-linking the southern African regional transport network to the seaport of Dar es Salaam in East Africa.
Historic challenges to do with liquidity, old infrastructure, inadequate rolling stock, and among others, stiff competition from the road transport sector have left TAZARA whose vision is to be “the most preferred transport organisation in the sub-region”, gasping for survival.
However, TAZARA has been exploring ways to revive the company and ensure to meet its target of transporting 600,000mt of cargo annually.
Among these efforts is the move to rehabilitate heavily-dilapidated and old wagons in a bid to increase TAZARA’s haulage capacity and revenue.
In 2016, the company set in motion an ambitious programme to rehabilitate 400 wagons.
It recently launched 12 wagons and one locomotive that have been rehabilitated.
Minister of Transport and Communications, Brian Mushimba commissioned the project in Kapiri Mposhi.
“As of today, we have refurbished 315 wagons of various types and capacities in our workshops in Mpika and Dar es Salaam,” TAZARA managing director Bruno Ching’andu said recently.
“We are determined to have all the 400 wagons back on the rail by the end of the year (2018).”
The 400 wagons were almost written off, but by repairing them, TAZARA has demonstrated its determination to improve its services and become a reliable transporter of heavy cargo.
Mr Mushimba said this was an indication of TAZARA’s resolve to revamp its operations.
“I am happy to learn that these fresh wagons have been successfully rehabilitated in your workshops in Mpika after undergoing heavy repairs and you have extended their life by 10 years and beyond,” Mr Mushimba said before he commissioned the wagons.
Recently, TAZARA was transporting about 80,000mt of cargo against its target of 600,000mt per annum, raising the concern of the governments of Zambia and Tanzania who co-own the company.
The rehabilitation of old wagons and its inherent capacity building of the company is expected to reduce the financial burden of the company.
TAZARA has also assured its partners that it is capable of increasing its carrying capacity to 600,000mt of cargo.
The introduction of statutory instrument (SI) number seven of 2018 by the Zambian government which requires transporters to move 30 percent of heavy cargo by railway provides an opportunity for TAZARA and Zambia Railways Limited (ZRL) to revive their companies.
“It’s an ambitious SI that we signed after stakeholder engagement and our assessment in the two institutions that is TAZARA and ZR,” Mr Mushimba says.
“We are confident as Government that TAZARA and Zambia Railways can handle additional 30 percent of our heavy and bulky cargo that is going to move off the road onto the track,” Mr Mushimba said.
Efforts by TAZARA management to revamp operations are already paying off as the company was able to ship 220,000mt of cargo last year compared to 88,000mt recorded in the 2015/2016 financial year.
“Our transit time from Kapiri to Dar has improved from over 30 days to only five to seven 7 days consistently. Our speed restricted areas on the track have reduced from 52 (days) to 14 (days), meaning the line is safer and speed is higher,” Mr Ching’andu says.
The managing director is happy with the progress TAZARA is making towards the anticipated rebound.
TAZARA came into being with the help of chairman Mao Zedong, the founding father of the People’s Republic of China.
China financed the construction of the 1,860km railway with a US$406 million interest-free loan.
The monumental railway was built between 1970 and 1975 to link landlocked Zambia and Tanzania which has access to the sea.
This was after the Ian Smith regime in Southern Rhodesia, in the present day Zimbabwe, unilaterally declared independence and subsequently Zambia could not access the ports of Durban, Port Elizabeth through the Rhodesia Railways route.
China holds the iconic railway between Zambia and Tanzania in high esteem. It also wants TAZARA to be a vibrant company.
Deputy Chinese Ambassador to Zambia Chen Shiji says TAZARA needs to make meaningful contributions to the economies of Zambia and Tanzania.
Mr Chen recently travelled on the TAZARA passenger train to have firsthand experience on the operations of the joint venture railway company.
“The leaders (chairman Mao, Kenneth Kaunda and Julius Nyerere) of the three countries China, Zambia and Tanzania made a historical decision to build TAZARA,” he said recently in Kapiri Mposhi.
For the shareholders and China, the rehabilitation of the wagons and locomotives is one way of addressing TAZARA’s problems.
Mr Mushimba expects TAZARA to wean itself from dependence on shareholders to finance its operations.
“In the past, TAZARA had a tendency of approaching the two shareholders of the company for financial support to address operational challenges. We are now saying TAZARA needs to be self-sustaining and should stop depending on the governments’ handouts,” he said.
With these expectations from stakeholders, TAZARA management needs to double efforts to revamp the operations of the company.