Maputo — The Mozambican government has negotiated a significant reduction in the cost of transporting goods by rail from the northern port of Nacala to Lichinga, the capital of Niassa province.
Previously the operator of the line, the private-led consortium, the Northern Development Corridor (CDN), charged 2,900 meticais (47.5 US dollars) per tonne for goods carried from Nacala to Lichinga.
This was a major disappointment for Niassa businesses, who claimed this meant it was cheaper to move goods by road from Nacala, despite the poor state of the roads in Niassa.
Indeed in December CDN announced that goods trains from Nacala to Lichinga would no longer run, because there was not enough cargo going in the opposite direction.
The branch line to Lichinga leaves the main northern rail corridor at the town of Cuamba. Rehabilitation of the 262 kilometre long Cuamba-Lichinga line was completed in late 2016, after years of complete paralysis due to the degraded state of the line.
Passenger services resumed almost at once, but the goods trains were only reintroduced on 16 June. Less than six months later, a CDN manager was claiming there was not enough traffic back to Nacala to make the service worthwhile.
“The goods train is not circulating because there is not enough cargo in Lichinga”, he said. “For example, the first train went from Nacala to Lichinga with 15 full wagons, but on the return trip only four wagons were loaded with maize”.
But businessmen in Lichinga said the problem was one of cost, and that they would not use the CDN wagons until the tariffs were reduced. As a result, the Cuamba-Lichinga branch line was only being used by passenger trains.
This was not a tolerable situation, since the whole point of rehabilitating the Cuamba-Lichinga railway was to make the circulation of goods to and from Niassa cheaper.
So on Tuesday, at the end of the weekly meeting of the Council of Ministers (Cabinet), the government spokesperson, Deputy Education Minister Armindo Ngunga, said the government had negotiated a reduction in the CDN tariff to 2,150 meticais a tonne - a cut of 26 per cent.
He said the reduction resulted from complaints at the high cost of transport made by the Niassa business community to Prime Minister Carlos Agostinho do Rosario, when he visited the province earlier in the month.
Ngunga said in the discussions between the government and CDN it was agreed that mixed passenger and goods train would now circulate regularly between Nacala and Lichinga. Initially, there will only be five goods wagons per train, but the number could increase as demand rises.
“The government has urged the Niassa Provincial Business Council to increase production and trade, in order to make the rail transport system viable”, said Ngunga.