Mining Logistics: Government confirms priority for new coal-carrying railway

The strengthening of the railway infrastructure to carry coal from the inland Tete province to the sea for export is one of the top priorities next year for Mozambique’s Ministry of Transport and Communications. This was affirmed by Transport and Communications Vice-Minister Manuela Rebelo in an interview with the Maputo newspaper ‘O País’, after the recent thirty-sixth meeting of the Coordinating Council of officials of the Ministry.

“The rehabilitation of the Machipanda and Ressano Garcia railway lines, the start of construction of the Tete–Macuse railway line and the associated port . . . to make Nacala International Airport viable . . . are some of the actions planned for 2019,” she told the newspaper. The Tete–Macuse railway line will be primarily used to transport coal, but also serve the needs of Mozambique’s neighbouring landlocked countries.

The 317 km Machipanda railway line links the port city of Beira, in Sofala province, with Machipanda in Manica province; Machipanda is on the border with Zimbabwe, where the line links with the National Railways of Zimbabwe. The 90 km Ressano Garcia line connects the country’s capital, Maputo, to Ressano Garica, on the border with South Africa, where it links with Transnet’s network. Nacala International Airport was redeveloped from a previous, and no longer required, military air base; it was opened in 2014 but reportedly has seen little use since then, served only by State-owned national carrier LAM Mozambique Airlines and apparently operating at only 4% capacity.

The Tete–Macuse line will run for 620 km from Macuse, on the coast in Zambézia province, to Chitima, in the Cahora Bassa district of Tete province, west of Tete city. Like Moatize, also in Tete province, Chitima lies in a coal-rich district. At Macuse, a deep-water port will be constructed. Reportedly, this will be able to accommodate ships of 80 000 t, larger than any which can use the existing Port of Beira (which is linked to the Tete coalfields by the Sena railway line). Later, this could be increased to 120 000 t vessels. The plan is that the Macuse port will have an initial capacity of 30-million tons a year (Mt/y) of coal, which would reach 100 Mt/y after the completion of Phase IV of the port project. (Macuse is located only 35 km from the port city of Quelimane, but the latter is a river port, some 25 km from the open sea, and thus totally unsuitable for use to export a bulk material like coal.)

The concession to build and operate the Tete–Macuse railway line was awarded by the Mozambique government to Thai Mozambique Logistics (which is 60%-owned by Italthai Engineering) in 2013. The project will require an investment of about $2.4-billion. Actual construction will be carried out by a Luso-Chinese consortium of China Machinery Engineering and Portuguese group Mota-Engil. Last year, it was reported that construction of the line would take 36 months, from start to finish, and the project is currently expected to be completed in 2021.

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