7 October 2013

Tanzania: From Arusha to Kilimanjaro - Reviving Northern Railway Line

Arusha — IF one visits the Arusha Railway Station at any time, chances are that the only thing that person is likely to encounter there is an animated gospel rally or 'louder than life' promotional concert road-show being staged on the grounds adjacent to its buildings.

A closer look will reveal a network of railway lines almost invisible but totally swallowed by overgrown grass and shrubs or buried in layers of soil and debris. The buildings have also been totally neglected featuring cobwebs, snakes, scorpions, mice and several inches of dust cover.

Cargo lorries have taken advantage of the neglected terminal, using the premises as unofficial truck base. It is hard to imagine that only about 25 years ago this station used to be a very busy terminal where passenger and cargo trains docked to deliver hundreds of passengers and tons of goods from Kilimanjaro, Tanga and Dar-es-Salaam regions.

On the other hand buses and trucks belonging to the former 'Tanzania Railways Corporation,' used to drive into the station and picked other passengers and goods from Arusha transporting them to inland regions not linked with railway lines. Now authorities here intend to revive the Railway Station's glory; part of it anyway because according to the Arusha Regional Commissioner, Mr Magessa Mulongo, the best that can happen is start railway transport between Arusha city and Moshi Municipality via the Kilimanjaro International Airport (KIA).

The idea to begin with, is to create a special 'Airport Express' to supplement the increasing number of passengers at Kilimanjaro Airport which now gets over 600,000 travellers per year with the figure expected to hit the million mark anytime soon and these may need more than the narrow highway to connect them to Arusha and Moshi towns.

The neglected railway line infrastructure is only covered by grass but otherwise still intact thanks to the effective engineering in the colonial times, you see, they don't make them like they used to. The metallic planks still bear the embossed EAR letters standing for the now defunct 'East African Railways.'

"We have the railway line infrastructure, which is just idle. If we find an investor on this area, we'll be using the available Tanga-Arusha railway line facilities," Arusha Regional Commissioner Mr Magesa Mulongo pointed out during the recent investment forum here.

The Northern railway line covers Tanga, Arusha and Kilimanjaro the three of the four regions making up the Northern Zone, the other one being Manyara, which however used to be part of Arusha region before 2003. It also extends to Dar-es-Salaam city.

The construction of the 86.08 kilometres long, Moshi-Arusha railway line which was initially meant to be the extension of the Tanga Line started in Kilimanjaro region (then known as the Northern Province) in 1911 and reached Arusha in 1929. The railway distance from Arusha to Tanga is 437 kilometres and when extended to Dar es Salaam the line eventually covers 644 kilometres, but services along this formerly busy railway line ceased in the early 90s.

"We are calling upon all potential investors to come and revive operations on the railway line because when you come to think about it, the venture will be very profitable," stated the Arusha Regional Commissioner.

He said the section of the railway line must be made operational as soon as possible so as to provide reliable transport for passengers using the Kilimanjaro International Airport (KIA) as well as residents who may want to commute between Moshi and Arusha for work on daily basis.

Direct railway link between Arusha and Moshi is set to operate like some sort of a 'subway' transport that will make it possible for people to live in any of the two towns and work on the other something that will be aided by faster and cheaper mode of transport.

Travelling between Arusha and Moshi using road-based, public transport at the moment cost 3000/- per single fare and since the return trip breaks the purse to the tune of 6000/-, the idea of daily commuting between the two points doesn't seem to be a feasible one.

The Arusha-Moshi highway which remains a narrow corridor forced to squeeze private and huge commercial vehicles on single track is on the other hand congested at best but extremely dangerous at worst with its increasing traffic forcing the movement on it to slow down to a snail pace.

Soon major works to expand the road will be put in place and the region figures that, railway transport should be put in place before the project starts since an alternative mode of transport will be needed as construction works are being undertaken.

It is estimated that more than 200,000 people visit Arusha in a day and more than 60 passenger buses leave (and arrive into) the city daily, to and from different destinations across the country. The city itself has a night population of 500,000 residents.

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