* As he opens the new Shire North Bridge that connects Limbe-Nkaya rail system
* The bridge is not a stand-alone project as it includes rehabilitation of Marka-Nsanje
* As well as Nkaya-Salima, Salima-Lilongwe and Lilongwe-Mchinji
By Duncan Mlanjira
At the opening of the Shire North railway bridge that connects Limbe-Nkaya rail system on Tuesday, President Lazarus Chakwera announced that his administration has also started the phased rehabilitation and upgrading of the 201km Marka-Limbe railway line that connects to the Mozambican border.
This rail line is economically important for Malawi for goods and fuel importation from Beira in Mozambique, which was viable in the past.
The rehabilitation starts from the border Marka up to Nsanje to Limbe and thereafter from Nkaya-Salima; Salima-Lilongwe and Lilongwe-Mchinji, which has been made possible through a concession agreement with CEAR.
“In my inaugural State of the Nation Address before Parliament last year, I declared in no uncertain terms that my Administration is bringing back rail,” the President said.
“Going forward, you can expect to see the development of rail infrastructure remaining high on our agenda. This is not a political agenda, but a national development agenda fully aligned with Malawi 2063 and the National Transport Master Plan.
“In that context, the opening of this New Shire North bridge, which ensures complete connectivity between Limbe and Nkaya is a great step in the right direction.
“It will not only reduce transportation costs, but spur development as well. The US$13 million that has been spent on the construction of this railway bridge is a worthy investment.
“I am confident that this will allow the trains to increase their frequency, which will in turn increase economic activity for local businesses and communities alike.”
When Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (MERA) adjusts fuel prices, it applies the Automatic Pricing Mechanism as according to in-bond landed cost (IBLC).
The IBLC is the weighted average of costs for each route the fuel is transported which is set at 50% through Beira; 30% through Dar-es-Salaam and 20% for Nacala.
If the fuel transportation was to be used through rail (Beira and Nacala) as was done during President Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda’s Malawi Congress Party (MCP)-led government, pump prices could have been lower.
Trains can carry up 50 wagon tankers per trip while road tankers are single carriers.
Chakwera said the rail projects underway are “only the beginning — the goal is to have a railway system that is truly national.
“Toward that end, my Administration has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government of Mozambique for the construction of a railway track between Mutarara in Mozambique and Nsanje in Malawi.
“This followed the signing of a preliminary agreement between His Excellency President Nyusi of Mozambique and myself in October, 2020 to have Malawi connected to the seaport of Beira by rail through the Sena Corridor.”
During that visit in Tête last October, it was announced that Mozambique had invested US$30 million to its public-owned ports and railway company (CFM) to carry out rehabilitation works of its rail network that connects with Malawi.
A report by Maputo daily paper, the Noticias, said the rehabilitation involves the Dona Ana-Vila Nova da Fronteira railroad network in the central province of Tete, which will re-establish the rail connection with Malawi.
Managing director of the CFM central division, Augusto Abudo was quoted by the paper as saying the US$30 million was to be disbursed by the company and the groundwork for the project, meant to end in September 2021, was underway.
Abudo told the paper that the first phase, whose works has already begun on the Malawian side, consisted of clearing the bush along the rail route.
The paper said the branch line is 115 kilometres long, of which 44 kilometres are on the Mozambican side between Dona Ana and Vila Nova da Fronteira and the remaining 71 kilometres on the stretch from Vila Nova da Fronteira to Bangula, Nsanje in Malawi.
When operational, the railway will connect Malawi to the central Mozambican port of Beira.
“When the line is working, cargo to and from Malawi will be ferried along the Sena Rail line to the Port of Beira,” Abudo was quoted as saying, stressing that the line will bring great benefits not only to CFM but also to the two countries through jobs and related businesses it will create.
The rail connection between the two countries was interrupted in the 1980s at the height of Mozambique’s civil war that destabilised the country.
At Shire North, Chakwera reminded Malawians that the first commissioning of a train in Malawi was in 1908 during the Colonial days that operated between Limbe and Chiromo.
“After we gained Independence, the railway network was extended from Blantyre to Lilongwe, then to Mchinji. This was done in pursuit of the vision of Malawi’s Founding President, Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, to link Malawi to seaports in Mozambique and Tanzania, which he knew would reduce the cost of transporting goods in and out of Malawi.
“Sadly, once that generation of visionaries left the stage, a new generation emerged that abandoned rail altogether. The dawn of our democracy saw the rise of a new generation of leaders who failed to appreciate the ingenuity and pragmatism of a robust railway system.
“When that new crop of leaders looked at the railway system Kamuzu had been developing, all they saw was system they could loot. They looted Malawi Railways Limited until it died. They looted the Railway Training Center until it died.
“As a result, we are now a country heavily dependent on more expensive modes of transporting goods into and across our country. This, in turn, has left Malawians in the unenviable position of paying three or four times more than neighboring countries for the same imported goods.
“It is estimated that about 40% of Cost-Freight and Insurance (CIF) on all imported or exported goods is transport cost. How we, as a landlocked country, have accepted this status quo for 27 years makes no sense to me.
“As I see it, no person who lends a hand to the death of rail in Malawi can claim to love this country. By contrast, every person who claims to love Malawi ought to be an advocate of the resurrection of rail in this country,” implored the President.