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Namibia-Zambia rail line gets green light

Namibia’s rail line is about to connect with Zambia, following a study conducted on the viability of merging the two rail lines giving the venture the green light. IT has officially been proven that extending Namibia’s rail line to connect Namibia and Zambia is commercially and environmentally viable, and would have various economic benefits.
This comes following a feasibility study on the extension of Zambia’s rail network to Namibia, which is expected to cover 770km.

The study was commissioned by the Ministry of Works and Transport and carried out by Mumbai-based consultant MR Technofin. It was jointly funded by the state and the African Development Bank and investigated the possibility of a line running from Zambia to Katima Mulilo and Grootfontein, where it would connect with Namibia’s rail system.

The main aim of the project is to stimulate the development of mining activity along the corridor between Walvis Bay and Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This would allow Zambia, Namibia and the DRC to export copper and other minerals to buyers in China, Europe and America.

Namibia has been instrumental in the copper trade – especially of the landlocked Zambia and conflict-stricken DRC. Last year alone, Namibia exported huge amounts of copper through Walvis Bay.

Canadian mining outfit Tsodilo Resources, which is active in the region, calls the proposed extension “an important development”.

James Bruchs, the company’s chief executive officer, in a press release says the extension would open up a transport system for its Xaudum iron ore mine in Botswana, which is 35km from the proposed route.

According to Brusch, “the key conclusion is that the proposed line is viable from a technical, environmental, legal, financial and economic standpoint and should move forward”.

Deputy director of industrialisation and trade Michael Humavindu says any opportunity to extend trading infrastructure within the Southern African Development Community, the Southern African Customs Union area and Africa is welcome.

“Specifically with Zambia, copper and hopefully animal feed will be vital for our downstream sectors. We can also collaborate with them in terms of sugar production. If indeed it is viable, let us explore the option of financing by the private sector. There are models that allow such options,” he says.

Namibia Trade Forum chief executive officer Stacey Pinto says while the rail line was targeted to enable the mining sector, there are other industries which can be positioned along the railway line, which would help facilitate trade across borders.

She said the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement can only impact African business on the back of various enablers, infrastructure being key.

“So this definitely would help solidify and increase trade not only for Namibia and Zambia, but other countries too (such as Botswana, Zimbabwe and the DRC) that could explore value-chain opportunities along the rail.

“Transporting goods by rail could also reduce costs for such goods and make them even more competitive in the region,” she says.

National budget documents for 2021/22 show the transport ministry has been allocated N$1 billion (US$ 68.3m) for the construction, renovation and improvement of railway lines.

The development budget document shows this money would be spent on the Walvis Bay-Kranzberg rail line N$812 million (US$ 55.4m), the Sandverhaar-Buchholzbrunn N$76 million ( US$ 5.1m), and the northern railway line extension N$32 million (US$ 2.1m).

The rest N$220 million ( US$ 15m) is allocated for the upgrading of an unnamed railway network.

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