Burundi + 5 more

UN's seamless transport plan for Great Lakes

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WAIRAGALA WAKABI

The EastAfrican, July 25 2005- A network linking the railway lines and some major lake ports in Burundi, Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia is being mooted by United Nations experts to promote trade and regional integration.

The proposed South Corridor Great Lakes Railway Project will entail construction of 900km of new railway line to provide seamless transportation across the Great Lakes Region for goods and people.

The targeted lakes are Tanganyika, Kivu and Edward. which are dotted with ports and are currently used independently for local transportation. But the existing facilities like ferries and port infrastructure are old and require upgrading.

Since 2000, Burundi, Congo, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia have been considering development of an alternative transport system to further inter-connect the region.

The actual length of the railway will be determined by among other factors, the economic viability of the proposed railway connections. Rehabilitation of the existing railway systems in both Uganda and Zambia, to which the project will be connected, as well as the improvement to the inland waterways and ports will be undertaken, says a July 2005 report.

The Great Lakes Railway Project is among a package of UN and African Union proposals that was presented to government officials and private sector experts at a meeting in Lusaka last week.

The project will be implemented as regional ventures under the Dar es Salaam declaration signed by 11 regional heads of state last November. The declaration, which climaxed the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region spearheaded by UN chief Kofi Annan, seeks to end conflicts in the region and instead promote regional-level development projects.

"In their commitment to coping with the ever present and onerous problem of finding easy access to the sea, the leaders of Burundi, Congo, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia have expressed interest in the development of the Southern Corridor. The project entails interlinking the lakes with a railway system and connecting the same with both the Southern African and East African railway systems, the report says.

The report recommends a pre-feasibility study for the technical, environmental, economic and financial suitability of carrying out the project. The study, which is estimated to cost $593,450, is expected to take four months to complete. It is proposed that one of the regional economic bodies should spearhead this venture.

The report says the project will involve linking the port of Mpulungu on Lake Tanganyika with Tazara (the Tanzania-Zambia Railway) at Kasama in Zambia, a be 200km long stretch of new line. Mpulungu port and Uvira on Lake Tanganyika will then be upgraded to handle 20 wagon trains; while lakes Tanganyika and Kivu will be linked by a new 108km railway line from Uvira on Tanganyika to Bukavu on Kivu, in Congo.

The ports of Bukavu and Goma on Lake Kivu will be upgraded to accommodate 20 wagon trains; and a new 120km railway line will be constructed from Goma or Bukavu to the Rwandan capital Kigali. This means that Burundi and Rwanda will both be effectively linked to the Tazara line and thus to Southern Africa.

Also proposed is the linking of Lakes Kivu and Edward on the Uganda-Congo border via a 123km railway line between Goma and the port of Bwera in Uganda; and upgrading Bwera and Kabalore port on Lake Edward to handle 20 wagon trains.

The report says Bukavu and Kindu in Congo will be linked on the proposed Cape-Sudan railway by 349km of new railway line; and that the existing 312km railway from Kasese to Kampala will have to be rehabilitated. A gauge-changing system trans-shipment facility will be built to facilitate the changeover from the 1,067mm gauge to the Ugandan and East African 1 metre gauge.

The report, which was prepared based on "several sources of information including those from Comesa and on the discussions with officials of the Kenya Railways Corporation and the documents made available by these organisations," says the project is a priority by countries of the region and has been proposed for funding to various development partners.

Besides giving these counties an alternative route, the interconnection with the Southern Africa railway system would also give them an opportunity to tap markets in the South, promote regional trade and regional integration, experts said.