The railway is to be built in four phases and will give the landlocked central African countries their first through rail link to the Indian Ocean.
Tanzania is the latest African country to embark on building a new standard-gauge railway. A brand new standard-gauge line running parallel to the old colonial-era railway in Kenya is well-advanced, while a Chinese-built electrified line linking Djibouti with Addis Ababa in Ethiopia was opened in October.
The 2190km line, which is part of the East African Railways Master Plan to link Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, will run from Dar es Salaam to the lake port of Mwanza on Lake Victoria, following roughly the same route as the metre-gauge Tanganyika Railway built by the German colonial authorities at the beginning of the 20th century.
Known after Tanzanian independence as the Central Line, the railway has suffered from a lack of maintenance in recent decades, leaving the country without reliable rail transport between its lake ports and the sea.
Construction of the new railway, currently known as the SGR, will be partly financed by a $US 7.6bn loan from China’s Export-Import Bank (Exim) secured last July.
The final section of the railway is to be built in four phases from the town of Morogoro, 200km west of Dar es Salaam, to Mwanza.
Reli Assets Holding Company Limited (Rahco) has announced four tenders for the contract, with each successful bidder to construct a 336km section from Morogoro to Makutopora, a 294km section between Makutopora to Tabora - site of the current junction to Mwanza on the Central Line - followed by a 133km section from there to Isaka, and a final 294km line from Isaka to Mwanza.
Isaka is the proposed junction for the standard gauge link to Kigali in Rwanda.
Meanwhile, work on Kenya’s 472km standard-gauge line from the port city of Mombasa to Nairobi is almost complete, with test trains due to run in early 2017.
According to local news reports, 98% of the civil works on the Shillings 327bn ($US 3.2bn) line are complete, and officials expect the first passenger train to run in June.
Like its Tanzanian counterpart, the new railway runs parallel to the original metre-gauge line built by British engineers at the end of the 19th century. That line, which runs to the port of Kisumu on Lake Victoria and on to Uganda, took millions of pounds, hundreds of lives and more than a decade to build against bitter opposition from politicians back home who dubbed it “the lunatic line,” a slur by which it is sometimes still known.
Kenya Railways Corporation officials said the first units of the Chinese-built locomotive fleet were due to arrive in January after which test runs would commence. The line is built to a 25-tonne axleload and freight trains will run at between 80-100km/h, which will have a positive effect on transit times over the old line which is plagued by slow orders and deficient maintenance.
A KRC official told Construction Business Review that it hopes to shift around 22m tonnes of freight a year over the new line. There are also plans to electrify the Mombasa - Nairobi link which officials estimate will cost around Shillings 49bn.
The second phase of the project will see the standard gauge extended from Nairobi to Naivasha and eventually to Malaba for a future link-up with the planned standard-gauge railway from Uganda.
Work has already started on the Shillings 153bn section to Naivasha. According to a report in Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper, however, it has not been easy going for the Chinese contractors. In August, workers downed tools at the Duka Moja construction camp west of Nairobi after they were allegedly assaulted by some 200 Maasai warriors.