25 February 2013

Mozambique: Sena Line Closure Costing CFM Millions of Dollars

Maputo — The closure of the Sena railway line, between the Moatize coal basin and the port of Beira, since 10 February has cost Mozambique’s port and rail company, CFM, about eight million US dollars in lost business.

Interviewed in Monday’s issue of the independent daily “O Pais”, the managing director of the company’s central division, CFM-Centro, Candido Jone, noted that the coal companies who use the line have also suffered serious losses.

The Brazilian company Vale has failed to deliver quarter of a million tonnes of coking coal to Beira for export, while Ro Tinto has suspended all activity at its open cast mine at Benga, until the railway re-opens.

CFM says that that the line can be re-opened by Tuesday, but with speed restrictions on stretches where emergency repairs are still under way, notably in the Zemira region in Mutarara district.

In all about eight kilometres of the line was affected by torrential rains and flooding. In places, not only was the ballast washed away, but so was the ground on which the line rested. This left the rail tracks and their sleepers dangling in mid-air over large craters.

Transport Minister Paulo Zucula, who visited the repair works in person on Friday, blamed the disaster on the shoddy work done by the Indian contractor, Rites and Ircon International (RICON), when they rebuilt the Sena line.

CFM and the government had bitterly criticized RICON for its lengthy delays and its poor workmanship – but the World Bank, which funded the reconstruction of the Sena Line, took no measures to correct matters.

Zucula said that the destruction was due not merely to the rains “but is the result of the line that we built. You know we had a long history with RICON in which we said they were building the line badly. This is further proof that the drainage system they installed was of the wrong size”.

The Minister believed that, when the problems began with RICON and the government threatened to rescind its contract, the Indian consortium began to cut corners in an attempt to finish the job. “They concluded the work badly and we are suffering for this”, he said. “This damage did not happen because of lack of planning, lack of engineering, much less lack of knowledge. The line was badly built”.

RICON had promised to complete the reconstruction of the Sena line by September 2009.

A year later the line was still unfinished, and the government gave notice that it was rescinding the contract in December 2010.

Recently RICON has suggested that it will take the Mozambican government to an international court to demand compensation for the termination of the contract.

Zucula dismissed this, saying “if anyone should be compensated, it’s the Mozambican government which should demand compensation from RICON for holding up the country’s development”.

There have been more than ten derailments on the Sena Line involving Vale and Rio Tinto coal trains. But these cannot all be blamed on defects in the line – there may also be problems with the rolling stock. Vale is reported to have imported second hand locomotives and wagons which have suffered repeated breakdowns.

CFM is now working with a Portuguese building company, Mota-Engil, to complete the upgrading of the Sena line.

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