22 February 2018

Mozambique: Driverless Train System for Maputo Awaits Funding

Maputo — The Mozambican government needs to mobilise 544 million dollars to establish an “Automated Guideway Transit” (AGT) system of driverless trains in Maputo.

A viability study on a Maputo AGT, written by a Japanese consultant, and financed by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA), was presented on Wednesday at a meeting attended by Transport Minister Carlos Mesquita and the Mayor of Maputo, David Simango.

The viability study was written thanks to a cooperation memorandum signed between Mozambique and Japan in April 2017, intended to improve passenger transport services in the Greater Maputo Metropolitcan Area.

AGT is a fully automated, driverless system in which vehicles are automatically guided along a "guideway". The movement of the vehicles, which are more like trains than buses, are controlled by computers. There are several successful AGT systems in Japan.

Mesquita declared that implementation of the Maputo AGT scheme would have a major impact “since it would ensue the mobility of people with due dignity”. He described the project as “an unequivocal expression of the good relations of friendship, solidarity and cooperation between Mozambique and Japan”.

To implement the Maputo AGT, a team of Mozambican workers visited Japan in November 2017 to receive training in the system. As a result “Mozambique has staff who are familiar with the operation and maintenance of an AGT system”, Mesquita said. “We are convinced that the success of the project involves far-reaching training of our human resources”.

Simango recognised that a large number of Maputo citizens “are still transported in deplorable conditions”. With the AGT project “we have an advanced technological solution to improve public transport in the municipality”.

The current plan envisages the system coming into effect in 2023. That year it will move 112,000 passengers a day on the 18 kilometre route from downtown Maputo to the outlying suburb of Zimpeto. There would be 15 stations on this route, which is the Maputo section of the country's main north-south highway. There will also be a spur running to Maputo International Airport.

In the first phase there would be six trains each with a capacity of 700 passengers, travelling at an average speed of 30 kilometres an hour. (This means that, to meet the target figure of 112,000 passengers a day, each train will have to make 27 journeys a day).

The flat rate fare for the AGT trains will be 25 meticais (41 US cents, at current exchange rates). “This fare is projected to make the operation viable in 2023”, said the Maputo City Councillor for Transport, Joao Matlombe. He admitted that changed economic circumstances between now and 2023 might dictate a different fare “but we think this will not alter the viability of the project”.

The main problem is who will pay for an investment of 544 million dollars? Although Japan paid for the viability study, it seems unwilling to pay the capital cost of installing the system. Japanese ambassador Tokio Isheda, cited in Thursday's issue of the independent newssheet “Mediafax”, sad that, given Mozambique's current economic situation, Japan will not provide financial support for launching the project. It is only guaranteeing technical support.

Matlombe said the AGT does not replace plans for a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. Those are still on the drawing board, but no-one has stepped up with the necessary finance. “Right now we are waiting for a better opportunity to put the BRT into operation”.

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