20 April 2009

East Africa: EAC Railway Master Plan to Be Redesigned

Arusha — Infrastructure ministers from Partner States of the East African Community (EAC) have called for a new design of the East African Railway Master Plan to cater for links to neighboring countries.

In a meeting held on Friday in Arusha, Tanzania, the ministers recommended that the Canadian consulting firm, CPCS Transcom International Ltd, which is carrying out the Master Plan study, includes railway links to Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) among others.

Infrastructure Minister Linda Bihire told The New Times shortly after the meeting that the Master Plan was incomplete and that the consulting firm will, in three months time, come up with the final plan of the railway network in East Africa.

"It is not only looking at East Africa but also other neighboring countries. The plan is to include links to Kisangani (DRC) and Juba of Southern Sudan. We have actually highlighted a few things to be rectified," she said.

Preparation of the East African Railways Master Plan is a directive of the Summit of the EAC Heads of State of April 2004, upon realization that the region would remain uncompetitive as long as transport costs remain high.

In particular, the Heads of State were concerned with the declining role of the railway system in transporting cargo to and from the ports and the resultant rapid deterioration of the region's road network.

Although the region's infrastructure still appears to be in sorry state, Bihire was upbeat the region would soon have a developed infrastructure network that would make East Africa more competitive.

She cited the three East African countries of Rwanda, Tanzania and Burundi which she said are working on a Railway study that is nearing completion.

"It's almost complete and we are very hopeful because it's economically feasible. Uganda and Kenya are also talking about starting a new line in addition to the Rift Valley project that didn't work out well," she added.

On the region's road network, Bihire said the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) had funded the construction of the Arusha-Namanga- Athi River road that crosses between Tanzania and Kenya.

The two agencies have jointly provided a loan totaling to US$ 156.3 million to cover civil works and construction supervision of the road which will next week be commissioned by the EAC Heads of State.

AfDB is financing the Athi River-Namanga section in Kenya for an amount of USD 93.1 million, while JICA is financing the Arusha - Namanga section in Tanzania for a total of USD 63.2 million.

Bihire said that there is still need for serious commitment to regional integration efforts by governments in the region if the current enormous financial and capacity challenges are to be tackled.

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