THE construction of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) is a project of crucial importance not only to Tanzania but to all of its neighbours in the East African Community (EAC). A key part of the East African Railway Master Plan, it will ultimately connect the port of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania with Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda and South Sudan, serving as a gateway to the region.

The population of the EAC is 295 million, providing a substantial market for the SGR which grows to 795 million or 57% of Africa’s total population with the addition of the member countries of the South African Development Community (SADC) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa). At present, trade between EAC countries is often characterised by an imbalance towards imports and low export volumes per capita, as well as the lack of rail connections from landlocked countries to seaports, and poor road infrastructure. These challenges result in high transport costs, longer transit times for freight, and poor reliability and safety.

Yet the region’s abundant natural resources, particularly minerals, present significant future trade opportunities. Speaking at the African Union’s technical workshop on the African Integrated High-Speed Railway Network (AIHSRN) held in Dar es Salaam in May, Ms Jessica Nzeyimana Dyegula, director of planning and investment at Tanzania Railways Corporation (TRC), pointed to the many socio-economic benefits of the SGR project.

With five sections now under construction (see table below), the project directly employs 40,246 people and has indirectly benefitted a further 150,880. Contracts worth a total of $US 1.45bn have been awarded, and the increased demand for cement, mortar and other construction materials has also contributed to national GDP and supported industrial policy. Construction will require some 35.45 million bags of cement and 4.6 million sleepers, as well as an estimated 226,000 tonnes of locally-sourced materials.

When operational, the SGR will provide reliable and cost-effective railway transport, significantly reducing journey times and road accidents. The electrified railway will also cut carbon emissions, and by encouraging modal shift for freight should help to reduce road maintenance costs.

The first trial passenger train on the SGR was flagged away from Dar es Salaam on April 21 by the prime minister of Tanzania, Mr Kassim Majaliwa, bound for Dodoma, and revenue passenger services are expected to begin in July this year. Passenger trains will operate at up to 160km/h and freight trains at up to 120km/h. By March this year, 65 of the 89 coaches for SGR had arrived in Tanzania from Sung Shin Rolling Stock Technology (SSRST) of Korea, with deliveries of the remaining 23 expected to begin in June. Production at Hyundai Rotem of the 17 electric locomotives is 83% complete, with nine now undergoing trials on the SGR and the remaining eight expected to arrive by the end of May. The first of 10 eight-car EMUs arrived on March 26 and production at Hyundai Rotem is 70% complete. Wagon production is ongoing, following the inspection by TRC of prototypes for a build of 1430.

The government has started work on Phase 2 of the SGR project, with construction underway on the 506km section from Tabora to Kigoma. Work here is 1.8% complete, with ongoing tasks including design, land acquisition, building construction camps and moving construction equipment to the worksites. Procurement of a consultant and contractor is underway for the 282km branch that will run from Uvinza between Tabora and Kigoma to Musongati and Gitega in Burundi. The African Development Bank (AfDB) has agreed to provide loan funding for this section of the SGR.

Efforts to secure funding from development partners, including investors through public-private partnerships (PPP), are ongoing for the construction of the remaining SGR sections. These are:

  • Kaliua - Mpanda - Karema (321km)
  • Isaka - Rusumo - Kigali (Rwanda) (371km)
  • Mtwara - Mbamba Bay with branches to Liganga and Mchuchuma (1000km)
  • Tanga - Arusha - Musoma (1028km)
  • Dar es Salaam City Railway (166km), and
  • Dodoma City Railway (107km).

For the next financial year, SGR construction has been allocated a total of Shillings 1.5 trillion ($US 582m) in government funding. Further provision has been made for procurement of locomotives, wagons and maintenance equipment, for training managers and operating staff, and for developing a freight marketing strategy.

TRC’s existing 2706km metre-gauge network continues to be a crucial asset, moving passengers and freight on the Central and Northern lines. By March 2024, a total of 240,439 tonnes of freight had been carried, down from 310,881 tonnes in the same period of 2022-23. This can be attributed to line closures lasting for over two months following heavy rain from November 2023 which damaged the infrastructure on the Ruvu - Mruazi Junction, Kilosa - Gulwe, and Kaliua - Mpanda sections, and on the Tanga - Arusha line.

Recognising the strategic importance of the existing railway in moving freight from the port of Dar es Salaam to neighbouring countries, the government has been actively rehabilitating sections of the network. In parallel, the TRC is implementing the second phase of the Tanzania Intermodal Rail Project (TIRP II), which includes the rehabilitation of railway infrastructure from Dar es Salaam to Isaka. This project involves track renewals, bridge and culvert construction, and building freight terminals at Ilala and Isaka. Work began on December 15 2023 and was expected to be completed within six months.

Rehabilitation of the 210km line from Kaliua to Mpanda is 11% complete, while preparatory work is now underway on the 411km Tabora - Kigoma line, following the signing of a contract with China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) on June 23 2023. Construction of a 6.2km line and a bridge between Godegode and Gulwe had reached 32.9% completion by March this year. Contracts have been signed for materials to rehabilitate the 188km line from Ruvu Junction to Mruazi Junction.

TRC is also upgrading signalling, telecommunications, and electrical systems. Electrical upgrades have been completed for the entire network, while signalling and telecommunications work is ongoing between Tabora and Mwanza. IT systems are also being upgraded at TRC, which is installing CCTV at stations and introducing an electronic ticketing system. On the rolling stock side, the TRC workshops at Morogoro are refurbishing two mainline and seven shunting locomotives, and the project is 63% complete. Spare parts have been purchased to repair 600 wagons and 37 coaches, and by March this year 285 wagons and 28 coaches had returned to service.

The new railway has become a landmark in central Dar es Salaam.

In 2024-25, the Railway Infrastructure Fund will spend Shillings 294.8bn of government funding on these initiatives, as well as feasibility studies and preliminary design for rehabilitating the 108km section from Kilosa to Kidatu. TRIP II has been allocated Shillings 17.23bn of external funding to support ongoing work as well as feasibility studies and preliminary design for the rehabilitating the Kilosa - Mikumi (108km), Tanga - Arusha (626km) and Kilosa - Gulwe - Igandu sections.

Jointly owned by the governments of Tanzania and Zambia, the Tanzania-Zambia Railway Authority (Tazara) operates the 1067mm-gauge railway running for 1860km from Dar es Salaam to New Kapiri Mposhi in Zambia. Between July 2023 to March 2024, Tazara carried 251,264 tonnes of freight, up 6.9% from 235,071 tonnes in the same period in 2022-23. This was driven by a new private-sector operator and the completion of repairs to the Chambeshi River bridge which had been closed from September 2021 to October 2022. In March this year Tazara signed a contract with operator Bravo Group which pays track access charges to Tazara.

The government of Tanzania has continued work to improve infrastructure. By March this year repairs on critical sections had been completed, while an advance payment of Shillings 4.1bn was made towards the purchase of a ballast tamper. For 2024-25, the Tazara Railway Rehabilitation and Commercial Areas Project has been allocated Shillings 13.69 billion in government funding to complete the acquisition of the tamper, purchase spare parts for 15 main line locomotives and refurbish one shunting locomotive, 100 freight wagons and 30 coaches. Tazara will also purchase a wagon weighbridge for the border crossing at Tunduma where two new tracks are to be laid. Additional work to be undertaken in 2024-25 includes preventive maintenance of 12 locomotives, 783 wagons, and 54 coaches. Work to repair and strengthen infrastructure will focus on areas with speed restrictions to improve operational efficiency, while an electronic ticketing and freight invoicing system will be rolled out.

Tazara has faced several operational challenges that have prevented it from making its expected contribution to the regional transport system. The governments of Tanzania and Zambia are in discussions with the government of China through a Chinese private company to explore ways to address these shortcomings and ensure efficient service delivery. The goal is to enter into an agreement for Tazara to be operated on a concession basis, with these discussions expected to be concluded by the end of September this year. This timescale is based on a recent engagement between the parties, pushing back on the original deadline of May, as originally indicated in the budget speech presented by the minister of transport in the spring.

To encourage private-sector participation, the government has amended railway legislation to enable private operators to use railway infrastructure on an open-access basis. Approved by parliament in June 2023, this enables the private sector to operate freight and passenger services, subject to paying track access fees. This initiative aims to increase competition among operators and expedite cargo handling at ports.

A Railway Investment and Business Stakeholders Forum organised by the government and held in March in Mwanza attracted over 300 attendees, showcasing the opportunities available on both the existing metre-gauge network and the SGR once it is completed. Regulations have been introduced for private-sector participation in the rail sector, intended to facilitate the purchase of locomotives and wagons by private companies, fostering increased efficiency and improved service delivery.

The Land Transport Regulatory Authority (Latra) will issue licenses to regulated service providers, and inspect infrastructure and rolling stock to ensure compliance with standards. Latra will also inspect rolling stock before and after entering the country to ensure safety, and will investigate accidents in collaboration with stakeholders to identify causes and take appropriate measures to prevent recurrence.

The government will also begin implementing a strategy to ensure that the SGR becomes self-sustaining and will not require subsidy once it is completed. To encourage traffic, freight on the SGR will be able to transfer to the TRC metre-gauge and Tazara networks using the transhipment facility at Kidatu in the Morogoro region. Additionally, connecting the dry ports of Kwala and Isaka, the lake ports of Mwanza and Kigoma, and the seaports of Dar es Salaam and Tanga by means of the metre and standard-gauge networks is hoped to encourage the use of rail for both domestic and international freight.

Working with the Central Corridor Transit Transport Facilitation Agency (CCTTFA), the World Food Programme (WFP), major freight shippers and other stakeholders, the Ministry of Transport has identified three major corridors to stimulate domestic cargo traffic. The Cold Chain Corridor will be dedicated to refrigerated consignments, such as meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, and flowers, while the Yellow Chain Corridor will be for mineral traffic. The General Cargo Chain Corridor will handle other types of freight, and in particular bulk freight as well as industrial and agricultural products. The government hopes that this initiative will generate sufficient traffic to enable TRC to enter into long-term contracts with major customers. It will also enable TRC to work alongside the private sector using the network on an open-access basis.