ARUSHA, Tanzania (eTN) – Tanzania and Uganda have agreed that a proposed joint commercial rail track that runs from Tanga-Arusha-Musoma-Kampala, would not cross through the Serengeti National Park, ending 12 months of speculations.
As it stands now, the $1.9 billion railway line that will link Tanga harbor and the Lake Victoria side dock of port Bell in Kampala via Musoma port, would route nearly 100 km south of the Serengeti border in a bid to protect the ecosystem.
The Tanzanian Minister overseeing the transport portfolio, Omar Nundu, told The Guardian on Sunday that the ambitious railway line project will not touch the Serengeti Park, as it has been speculated.
“Rest assured that the railway line would be constructed a 100 km south of the Serengeti National Park sprawling border,” Engineer Nundu said, allaying fears.
Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) was quick to applaud the two East African states for demonstrating that they are concerned by the Serengeti Ecosystem and that the planned regional development will be in harmony with the World Heritage site.
“We are very glad that the cross border railway line will pass through the densely-populated areas to the south of the Serengeti where there is much more commercial potential, instead of the ecological fragile areas in the north,” said Dr. Markus Borner, the Africa Director of the Frankfurt Zoological Society.
Dr. Borner added: “We now have a solid development model that gives maximum support to the economic growth of the region without endangering the migration of nearly two million animals in the world-renowned national park.”
Engineer Nundu and his Ugandan counterpart, Dr. Chebrat Slepher, recently signed an agreement with a Chinese Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCEC) for the construction of a Tanga-Arusha-Musoma railway.
Under the multi-million-dollar project, the CCEC has been commissioned to conduct a feasibility study and implementation of the project.
The entire project, worth $3 billion, will include the construction of the nearly 880 km railway line, the Mwambani port in Tanga, Musoma dock, and another at Port Bell in Uganda. The project will be ready by 2015.
Mr. Nundu said that plan also will see the Tanga and Musoma ports dedicated to handle cargo traffic destined to Uganda and Southern Sudan.
Freight would be conveyed from Musoma dock by ferry to Port Bell pier – about 350 km in Uganda. A rail connection runs via Tororo to Gulu – nearly 600 km on the Pakwach branch.
North of Gulu, a new line of roughly 250 km would have to be constructed to Juba, and a further 550 km to the Wåo railhead in Southern Sudan.
“Both countries are in agreement to contribute funds for the project implementation,” Nundu noted.
Managing Director of CCEC, Wang Xiangdong, vowed to accomplish the feasibility study by April 2012, followed by the construction of the railway line and ports in the identified areas.
“The construction of the railway line will be enlarged to 1,435 mm, which is the standard gauge used in other countries and directed by the both states,” Xiangdong explained.
New Trade Route
Upset by costly logistical challenges between Mombasa and Dar ports, Kampala has been looking for alternative trade routes in the region.
Analysts said the Tanga-Arusha-Musoma-Kampala railway line will offer a ray of hope to the Ugandan economy.
Dr. Chebrat Slepher, the Uganda Minister for Transport, said there is no way development can be achieved without clearly defined means of transport.
“The most interesting part of this project is that it would reduce congestion at the key regional ports of Mombasa and Dar es Salaam,” Dr. Slepher said.
Kampala has persistently cried that intolerable delays on the core transport corridors and low capacity at Mombasa and Dar harbors are the major factors behind its search for new routes.
Uganda also hopes that the planned Tanga-Musoma-Uganda railway will enable it to circumvent the ageing and grossly inefficient railway line it shares with Kenya.
“The biggest snag for our competitiveness is the poor state of Mombasa port in terms of capacity. It remains a challenge to trade in the region,” Kenya Shippers Council Chief Executive Officer, Gilbert Lagat, said.
The Dar es Salaam route, however, remains unpopular among oil marketers, because it is longer than the traditional route through Kenya.
“The route… is longer by close to 300 km, and that beats logic for traders in terms of cost,” Mr. Lagat said.
Figures show that the Dar dock merely handles one percent of Ugandans’ trade, with 99 percent passing through Mombasa port.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni is on record as saying the Musoma link was “the lifeline of the Uganda of his dreams.”