East African rail network expansion planned

By Richard High04 July 2008

Phillip Wambugu, the East African Community (EAC) director for Planning and Infrastructure has announced plans to build 15 new railways connecting seven countries in the region, according to local press reports.

In a statement at the end of the 9th Summit of the EAC in Kigali, Rwanda, at the end of last month, Mr Wambugu said feasibility studies for the new railway lines, which are expected to be operational in 12 years, have been done. The results have now been handed over to member states for evaluation.

A regional consultative group has also been formed, he added, with the aim of driving the construction work. It will operate independently of the EAC secretariat and will coordinate the project, which is expected to increase regional trade.

Under the masterplan, said Mr Wambugu, Tanzania will be the largest beneficiary of the project. It will get eight new standard gauge (SG) lines that will link it with the neighbouring countries of Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda.

Kenya will have two SG railway lines running from the coastal town of Lamu to Juba and Addis Ababa. One will connect the northern border town of Garissa with the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, while the other will connect Lamu to Juba through Garissa.

In Kenya and Uganda a new line will be constructed parallel to the current one that links the two countries. Uganda is expected to get four new lines, one of which is expected to connect the port of Mombasa to the Ugandan capital, Kampala.

Mr Wambugu said the current metre-wide gauge railway lines used in the region had become obsolete, had high operational costs and minimal returns. "The existing metre gauge railway will not support the region's transport needs irrespective of the level of investment put into it," he said.

The EAC estimates it will require at least US$ 180 million to restore the region's railway network to the levels it operated at 20 years ago.

Apart from the EAC states, Nigeria and South Africa are also planning new SG type railway lines. Nigeria plans to construct a new 8000 km-long SG line, while South Africa is planning new line between Johannesburg and Pretoria.

The EAC is the regional intergovernmental organisation of the Republics of Kenya, Uganda, the United Republic of Tanzania, and the Republics of Burundi and Rwanda.

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