THE Tanzania Zambia Railway Authority (Tazara), which operates the 1860km 1067mm-gauge railway linking Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, with New Kapiri-Mposhi, Zambia, is in negotiations with two private operators to access the line.

The negotiations were announced following a virtual board meeting held on October 18 between the Tazara board of directors, including Tazara chairperson, the permanent secretary responsible for transport in Zambia, Mr Stephen Mbewe, Tazara co-chairperson, the permanent secretary responsible for transport in Tanzania, Mr Gabriel Migire, and board members, Professor Razack Lokina, Mrs Rukia Shamte, Mr Stanslous Sichalwe and Mr Peter Kazhila.

The board says more funding is needed for maintenance on the line, as traffic flows are expected to increase exponentially with the introduction of two additional operators on the line.

The line carried 479,801 tonnes of freight in the 2020-21 financial year, which ended on June 30, up 26.6% compared with 378,978 tonnes in 2019-20. This included 217,661 tonnes carried by Tazara, up from 182,302 tonnes in 2019-20, and 262,140 tonnes carried by private operator Calabash Freight, which already has access rights to the railway.

Passenger numbers on the line were steady despite the Covid-19 pandemic, with 2,760,493 passengers using the line in 2020-21, down 0.66% from 2,778,708 in 2019-20. Revenue for the 2020-21 year was $US 31.044m, including $US 12.689m from non-operational income and open-access fees, up from $US 24.511m in 2019-20.

The board also declared that the closure of the Chambeshi River Railway Bridge in Zambia is “a national emergency,” which will impact the national economies of Tanzania and Zambia. The 12-week closure of the bridge on October 14, following major damage from a freight train accident on May 13, has resulted in the disruption of services between New Kapiri-Mposhi and Kasama. Passenger services have been suspended between Chambeshi and Kasama, but are continuing to operate from Kasama to Nakonde on the Zambian-Tanzanian border.

The board also expressed confidence that following the installation of a new cabinet after the general election in Zambia on August 12, the Tazara council of ministers would soon meet to make a decision on the proposed Revitalisation Bankable Business Plan, which would invest $US 558m in short to medium term actions to improve operation on the line.