US$11bn rail project for Zim, Zambia, Moza

UNITED States-based Railnet International plans to invest an estimated US$11 billion in a modern railway line and high-speed trains linking Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

According to Reuters, Railnet chief executive officer Mr Donald Kress said his railway development and construction company was in talks with governments in the three countries, having already signed an agreement to start feasibility studies in Zambia.

“We have a group known as Magcor International and their chief executive officer has arranged financing through a group of investors.

“Until we have signed a contract with the investors, they have requested to remain anonymous,” Mr Kress was quoted as saying following the signing of an agreement over the weekend.

The investment in the project, running from Zambia’s Copperbelt province to the port of Beira in Mozambique via Harare in Zimbabwe includes the cost of locomotives and wagons. Feasibility studies for the project were expected to begin in the next six weeks and would be followed by detailed engineering design for the project on the Zambian side, Mr Kress said.

Construction was expected to begin in January 2021 and Railnet would replace the existing system to allow freight trains to travel at 120 kilometres per hour and passenger trains at 160 km/hour.

Zambia Transport and Communication Permanent Secretary, Mr Misheck Lungu, who signed the agreement for his country said Railnet would build the new railway line parallel to the existing old one. He said the project would enable business including mining companies in Africa’s second-largest copper producer to transport bulk cargo by railway instead of using roads.

In an interview with Business Chronicle yesterday, NRZ board chair Advocate Martin Dinha said he was not privy to the details of the proposed rail infrastructure investment, but pointed out that such an investment was welcome in the country.

“That is news to us. Such a proposed investment is welcome to us as it will go a long way in revitalising NRZ.

“We will engage our Zambia counterparts for details of this proposed huge investment,” he said.

NRZ, the country’s strategic transporter, is seeking an investor to rehabilitate its infrastructure after Cabinet last year revoked the US$400 million deal the ailing parastatal entered with the Diaspora Infrastructure Development Group (DIDG)-Transnet Consortium.

The parastatal’s rehabilitation programme entails renewal of plant and equipment, rolling stock, track signalling and telecommunications infrastructure and supporting information technology systems. The DIDG/Transnet Consortium was awarded by the then State Procurement Board in August 2017 for the revival of NRZ operations.

At its peak in the 1990s, the company used to move about 14,4 million tonnes of freight against an installed capacity of 18 million. The freight volumes have over the years dropped drastically as a result of the prevailing economic challenges and NRZ’s reduced capacity. — Reuters/Business Chronicle

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