Lungu said this week that talks are planned with Angola's government on how to fast-track the project, which has been pending since 2005 when Northwest Railway Company (NWR), which is associated with former vice president Mr Enock Kavindere, was first granted permission to implement the project.

Lungu, however, could not confirm immediately whether the talks with Angola will involve NWR, which last year awarded a $US 989m contract to South African logistics firm Grindrod for the construction of the link between Solwezi and Chingola, the first of the project's two-phases. The second phase will link with the Benguela railway near the border town of Jimbe, which will provide a direct connection through Angola to the Atlantic port of Lobito.

Although NRW was awarded the exclusive right to develop the railway line in 2006, its licence for the project was cancelled in 2008 before it was reinstated in 2011. Phase one was initially set to be completed in 2014.