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How Ethiopia, Tanzania, others move cargoes by rail


Ethiopia, Djibouti, Tanzania, Kenya, Zambia, and Uganda are among countries in Africa that have made rail transport an important mode of transporting cargoes from the ports to places where they are needed.

The impact of rail lines on cargo evacuation in those countries holds important lessons for Nigeria, a nation with six functional seaports that depend on the road to move about 95 percent of its import and export goods.

Ethiopia, a landlocked nation that is located in the north-eastern part of Africa, relies on the Djibouti Port for its import and export trade. It developed eight inland ports, also known as dry ports, which receive goods from its neighbouring port of Djibouti.

To efficiently move cargo to these inland ports in a cost-effective manner, the Ethiopian government built and inaugurated its 756km electrified rail line connecting Addis Ababa to Djibouti Port at the cost of $4 billion.
Read also: Tanzania’s $1.9bn with Turkey to deliver 368km of rail tract

The Ethiopia-Djibouti standard gauge railway project has 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 engines), and 30 passenger coaches.

Findings show that the Ethiopia-Djibouti standard gauge railway became the first trans-boundary and longest electrified railway on the African continent.

Its existence led to the efficient and timely movement of goods connecting the port of Djibouti to the industrial parks in Ethiopia and beyond. The cargo trains travel at 100 kilometres per hour with a maximum hauling capacity of 3,500 tonnes.

Ethiopia and Tanzania have been competing for cargo business in the region in recent years.

Tanzania has about 3,676km of operational rail lines and its internal lines are managed by the Tanzania Railways Corporation. The country also has an inter-boundary line, known as the Zambia-Tanzania line, which connects Dar es Salaam to Kapiri Mposhi, and is co-managed by the Tanzania-Zambia Railways Authority.

Kenya is another East African country that depends on rail lines to move imports and exports from the seaport to the hinterland. Rail transport in Kenya consists of a meter-gauge network and a new standard gauge railway. Both railways connect Kenya’s main port city of Mombasa to the interior, running through the nation’s capital, Nairobi. The meter-gauge network runs to the Ugandan border, and the Mombasa–Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) reaches Suswa.

Its rail line totals 2,778km, with a line connecting Mombasa port to Malaba in Uganda. It also has about 472km Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Rail line already in operation with a plan to upgrade to an electric line.

With the standard gauge rail, which was merged with the old meter gauge rail, Kenya Railway Corporation said it is now targeting the transshipment cargo going to the Great Lakes Region including Uganda, South Sudan, DR Congo, Northern Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi.

According to Kenya Railway Corporation, the SGR line has the capacity to handle 120,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) annually. Similarly, it said that it will cost $860 per TEU of container, compared to the road, which costs $2,032 per TEU.

At the inauguration of the standard rail in January this year, Philip Mainga, managing director of Kenya Railways, said the corporation would have regular, speedy, and reliable delivery of cargo through well-organised train schedules with strict timetables for the evacuation of cargo and empty container repatriation from the inland container terminals.

“The Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Rail line’s efficiency has steadily increased over time as most cargo has slowly moved on to the Standard Gauge Rail line, with last-mile logistics improvement in Nairobi. The Addis Ababa-Djibouti line is also improving, with growing utilisation and improved revenue,” said The Africa Report.

According to the report, Admassu Tadesse, president of the Trade and Development Bank, said that rail transport is much cheaper, reduces travel time, is safer, and supports job creation while reducing carbon emissions vis-à-vis alternatives to road transport.

Beyond Africa, Thessaloniki Port Authority in Greece also depends on rail to move imports. It recently launched a new regular service with block trains between Thessaloniki in Greece and Nis in Serbia.

The first block train carrying containers from CMA CGM, the French carrier, left the container terminal of the Port of Thessaloniki on August 17 and arrived at the Mbox terminal in Niš within 16 hours.

It is expected that from September 2022, trains will depart both Thessaloniki and Niš every week on Wednesdays and Saturdays and arrive at their respective destinations on the same day.



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