Maputo — The transport of goods by rail from the northern Mozambican port of Nacala to the main cities of landlocked Niassa province, Cuamba and Lichinga, will resume next week, after an agreement reached between the government, local businesses and the Northern Development Corridor (CDN), which operates the Nacala rail system.
President Filipe Nyusi announced the resumption of goods traffic on Monday, at a rally in the village of Malemia, in Sanga district, on the first day of a working visit to Niassa.
“As from 16 June, the goods trains will reach Lichinga”, he pledged. “In the initial phase, they will practice subsidized prices. This will facilitate many things, including the marking of domestic production at low cost”.
In November 2016, Nyusi had re-inaugurated the 262 kilometre long branch line from Cuamba to Lichinga. This line is essentially a spur off the northern rail corridor that runs from Nacala to Entre-Lagos on the border with Malawi.
The line was built in 1972 in the closing years of the colonial period, but the Portuguese engineers cut corners, by using light weight rails and timber sleepers. The line was thus always fragile and liable to suffer derailments. Nonetheless, it was a vital lifeline for Niassa which allowed fuel and other basic commodities to reach Lichinga from Nacala at a reasonable price.
During the war of destabilisation, the line came to a complete standstill, and goods could only reach Lichinga by a hazardous and expensive road journey. After the war, the private-led CDN consortium gained the lease on the Nacala port and railway, including the spur to Lichinga.
CDN ran trains sporadically to Lichinga. But the line was in such poor condition that, even under relatively good conditions in the dry season it took three days for a train to make the journey from Cuamba to Lichinga. In 2010 traffic on the line was suspended altogether, and complete reconstruction of the line began in 2014.
With the line operational again as from November 2016, Niassa businesses assumed that goods could once again be sent to and from the coast relatively cheaply. They were wrong. CDN imposed freight charges that were so high that many businesses opted for road transport instead, despite the poor state of the Lichinga-Cuamba road.
Thus the Cuamba-Lichinga railway was only used for passenger transport. The prices charged by CDN, regarded by Niassa businesses as excessive, undermined the whole point of rebuilding the railway.
CDN was charging the equivalent of 75.53 dollars a tonne. Since the distance from Nacala to Lichinga is 795 kilometres, each tonne making the journey would cost slightly more than 60,000 dollars. Such high charges meant that the railway could not compete with road haulage companies, which were charging about 50 dollars a tonne to move goods between Nacala and Lichinga.
A source in the Niassa provincial government told AIM that after the negotiations, the CDM freight charges have come down to 47.54 dollars a tonne.
The Niassa provincial transport director, Antonio Mateus, said that for the initial Nacala-Lichinga goods trains, 15 wagons, each of 35 tonnes would be mobilized, and the size of the trains would rise gradually with demand.
“We are promising to do everything to develop Niassa”, said Nyusi. “One of the great problems when we began our cycle of governance was to guarantee that trains would reach Lichinga. Now the trains do reach the city. But up to now we've had the problem that they only carry passengers”.
The government also intends to improve road transport in Niassa, and on Tuesday Nyusi is scheduled to lay the first stone for the reconstruction of the highway between Cuamba and Lichinga.