|Main Region(s):||Tanzania and Zambia|
|Parent company:||Tanzanian Government (50%)
Zambian Government (50%)
|Track length:||1,860 km (1,160 mi)|
|Gauge:||1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) Cape gauge|
The TAZARA Railway, also called the Uhuru Railway or the Tanzam Railway, links the Tanzanian port of Dar es Salaam with the town of Kapiri Mposhi in Zambia's Central Province. The railway is 1,860 km (1,160 mi) in length and was built as a turnkey project financed and executed by China. Construction began in 1970 and was completed in 1975, two years ahead of schedule. Construction costs were about US $500 million, making it the largest single foreign-aid project undertaken by China at the time. The TAZARA was also the single longest railway in sub-Saharan Africa.
The Chinese government sponsored construction of the railway to eliminate landlocked Zambia's economic dependence on Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and South Africa, both of which were ruled by white-minority governments. The railway provided the only route for bulk trade from Zambia's Copperbelt to reach the sea without having to transit white-ruled territories. The friendly relations between Zambia and Tanzania, along with the symbolism of China's involvement in newly decolonized Africa, gave rise to TAZARA's designation as the Great Uhuru Railway, Uhuru being the Swahili word for Freedom.
- 1 Route
- 2 Service
- 3 Rail gauge and standards
- 4 History
- 5 Social impact
- 6 Legacy
- 7 See also
- 8 Maps
- 9 References
- 10 Works cited
- 11 External links
Running some 1,860 km (1,160 mi) from Tanzania's largest city, Dar es Salaam, on the coast of the Indian Ocean to Kapiri Mposhi, in the Copperbelt of central Zambia, the TAZARA is sometimes regarded as the greatest engineering effort of its kind since the Second World War. The railway crosses Tanzania in a south-west direction, leaving the coastal strip and then entering largely uninhabited areas in the northern part of the vast Selous Game Reserve. The line crosses the TAN-ZAM highway at Makambako and runs parallel toward Mbeya and the Zambian border, before entering Zambia, and linking with Zambia Railways at Kapiri Mposhi.
From sea level, the railway climbs to 550 metres (1,800 feet) at Mlimba, and then reaches its highest point of 1,789.43 metres (5,870.8 feet) at Uyole in Mbeya before descending to 1,660 metres (5,450 feet) at Mwenzo, the highest point in Zambia, and settling to 1,274.63 metres (4,181.9 feet) at Kapiri Mposhi.
Dar es Salaam metropolitan area
In the greater Dar es Salaam metro region, the TAZARA is also used for passenger commuter rail. The Dar es Salaam commuter rail was launched in 2012 to relieve traffic congestion. The TAZARA offers two routes on its 20.5 km rail network. The first from its station in Dar es Salaam to Mwakanga which lies on the outskirts of the city. It stops at Kwa Fundi Umeme, Kwa Limboa, Lumo Kigilagila, Sigara, Kitunda road, Kipunguni B, Majohe and Magnus. The second service runs from its Dar es Salaam station to Kurasini via Kwa Fundi Umeme, Yombo, Chimwaga, Maputo, Mtoni Relini and Kwa Aziz Ali Relini.
Upon leaving the coast, TAZARA dips south of Mikumi National Park and enters the wilderness in the northern part of the Selous Game Reserve. The Selous is one of the largest faunal reserves in the world and passengers can often see wildlife such as giraffe, elephant, zebra, antelope and warthog, which have become accustomed to the rumbling of the trains. The railway crosses the Great Ruaha River for the first time in the Selous.
Further south, the railway cuts through the fertile Kilombero Valley, and skirts the great Kibasira Swamp before tackling the greatest challenging area between Mlimba (the Kingdom of Elephants) and Makambako (the Place of Bulls). This 158 km (98 mi) presented the builders of the railway with the greatest challenge. To lay track across rugged mountains, precipitous valleys and deep swamps, it was necessary to construct 46 bridges,18 tunnels, and 36 culverts. Because of the heavy rainfall in this area, intricate drainage works had to be integrated with every feature. But perhaps, the most spectacular feature is the bridge across Mpanga River valley, which stands above the river on three 50 m (164 ft) tall pillars.
The TAZARA then climbs the Southern Highlands and levels out onto a rolling plateau. Here, in the coffee and tea country of Njombe, the weather becomes noticeably cooler, the air sharper. On the approach to Makambako, the Udzungwa Mountains National Park rise 2,137 m (7,011 ft) to the north, while the Kipengere Range roll ahead to the south. Makambako is one of the meeting points of the railway and the Tanzania-Zambia Highway.
From Makambako the railway and the highway run a parallel course towards Mbeya running past the Kipengere Range that towers to the south. Here, the TAZARA crosses several upstream tributaries of the Great Ruaha, which are lined with belts of forest and grasslands.
After the Kipengere Mountains, the Uporoto Range takes over with the Usangu Flats stretching to the north. From Mbeya town, both the railway and the highway head north-westwards to Tunduma where they cross the border into Zambia.
The TAZARA enters northeastern Zambia at Mwenzo and heads southwest to Kasama and turns due south. It crosses the Chambeshi River en route to Mpika and then the Muchinga Mountains, before heading southwest past Serenje and Mkushi to Kapiri Mposhi, located due north of the Lusaka.
As of 2009, two express passenger trains per week traverse the entire TAZARA in each direction. The entire journey, as scheduled, takes 36 hours, though delays can extend the trip to as long as 50 hours or more. A third, slower train runs weekly between Dar es Salaam and Mbeya. This train is scheduled to pass through the Selous Game Reserve during daylight hours. Trains on the TAZARA is slower than overland bus service but is cheaper and safer. In recent years, the TAZARA trains have attracted foreign tourists wishing to see the landscape and wildlife along route.
Commuter train service on the TAZARA between Dar es Salaam and its suburbs commenced in 2012.
Rail gauge and standards
The TAZARA has a track gauge of 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm), also known as the Cape Gauge, which is used throughout southern Africa. The railways of Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique, Angola, Malawi, Namibia and the Congo, for the most part if not entirely, use the Cape Gauge. There is no break of gauge at Kapiri Mposhi. The remainder of Tanzania’s railways have 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 3⁄8 in) metre gauge tracks. A transshipment station with a break of gauge station was built in Kidatu in 1998.
Except for the rail gauge, TAZARA generally reflects Chinese railway standards of the 1970s. TAZARA has a design capacity of 5 million tons per year.
- American-style Janney (AAR) coupling.
- Air/vacuum brakes.
- 20 tonne axle loadings.
- Pre-stressed concrete ties on the main line, with wood ties used at turnouts and on bridges.
- High-manganese steel rail weighing 45 kg/m (90 lb/yard), mostly jointed.
- Semaphore signalling.
Origins of the project
In the late 19th century, a railway was envisioned from British Rhodesia to Tanganyika (then German East Africa) to carry copper was originally envisioned by Cecil Rhodes. After World War I, Tanganyika was handed over to the United Kingdom for administration as a League of Nations Mandate, and British colonial authorities again explored the idea.
Following World War II, interest in railway construction revived. A map from April 1949 in the Railway Gazette showed a line from Dar es Salaam to Kapiri Mposhi, not far from the route that would eventually be taken by the Chinese railway. A report in 1952 by Sir Alexander Gibb & Partners concluded that the Northern Rhodesia-Tanganyika railway would not be economically justified, due to the low level of agricultural development and the fact that existing railways through Mozambique and Angola were adequate for carrying copper exports. A World Bank report in 1964 also concluded that the line was uneconomical, suggesting that a road should be built instead.
In 1961, Tanganyika became independent, under the leadership of Julius Nyerere and in 1964 joined with Zanzibar to form the United Republic of Tanzania. Also in 1964, Northern Rhodesia was granted independence as Zambia, under the leadership of Kenneth Kaunda. Both Nyerere and Kaunda were charismatic socialist African leaders who supported the self-determination of their African neighbors.
In 1965, Southern Rhodesia's white-led colonial government issued its Unilateral Declaration of Independence from Britain, and threatened to sever Zambia's trade routes to the sea. As Nyerere and Kaunda continued to supported black liberation movements in Rhodesia, South Africa, Mozambique, and they sought to build a rail link between their countries to protect Zambia's political and economic independence. Such a connecting railway would also help develop the agricultural regions of southwestern Tanzania and northeastern Zambia.
Nyerere and Kaunda initially pursued different avenues for the construction of an alternative rail route. Nyerere, after a visit to Beijing, accepted a team of Chinese surveyors, who produced a short report in October 1966. Kaunda was initially more skeptical of Communist involvement and pursued Western backing. The resulting Canadian-British aerial survey produced a favourable report in July 1966, but Western funding was not forthcoming. All told, the United States, Britain, Japan, West Germany World Bank and the United Nations all declined to fund the project. The USSR was similarly uninterested.
In February 1965, when Nyerere visited Beijing, he was initially hesitant to raise the issue of the railway out of concern that China was also a poor country. President Liu Shaoqi offered to assist Tanzania and Zambia in building a railway between the two countries. Chairman Mao Zedong told Nyerere, “You have difficulties as do we, but our difficulties are different. To help you build the railway, we are willing to forsake building railways for ouselves.” Chinese leaders assured Nyerere that the full ownership of the railway would be handed to Tanzania and Zambia to upon completion along with the technology and equipment for operations.
At the time, China was actively seeking diplomatic support in the Third World against both the United States and the Soviet Union. Some believe that Mao originally supported the construction of the railway to secure votes against the Soviet Union at the Asia-Africa summit of Algiers of 1965. Though the Algiers conference was cancelled, Chinese support for the TAZARA continued.
Trade Minister Abdulrahman Mohamed Babu, who first visited China in 1959, and other ministers from Zanzibar were instrumental in lobbying Chinese leaders for support and then persuading Nyerere to accept the assistance. At the 1965 Commonwealth prime minister's conference, British prime minister Harold Wilson was so struck by Tanzania's pro-China attitude that he felt many of Nyerere's ministers were "directly in the Chinese pay."  Canadian prime minister Lester Pearson also questioned whether Nyerere should get so close to the Chinese. Nyerere later complained that Western nations opposed the Chinese plans for the railway, but did not offer him any alternative.
"... all the money in this world is either Red or Blue. I do not have my own Green money, so where can I get some from? I am not taking a cold war position. All I want is money to build it."—Julius Nyerere, PRO, DO183/730, From Dar es Salaam to CRO, No. 1089, 3 July 1965.
Nyerere did not immediately accept the Chinese offer but sought to use it to induce Western backing for the railway, but none was forthcoming. Kaunda had turned down an offer to build the railway from the Chinese Embassy in Lusaka. He was more wary of Communists and wanted to maintain friendly ties with Britain, not least because Zambia and Rhodesia were joint owners of the Zambian Railway and the joint ownership agreement would penalize Zambia for diverting traffic to other railways.
South Rhodesia’s declaration of independence changed Kaunda’s outlook change. He accepted the Chinese offer while visiting China in January 1967. On September 6, 1967, an agreement was signed in Beijing by the three nations. China committed itself to building a railway between Tanzania and Zambia, supplying an interest-free loan of RMB988 million (approx. US$500 million) to be repaid over 30 years.
The West reacted to Chinese backing for the project with both alarm and derision. Critics questioned construction quality and competence of the Chinese, calling the TAZARA, the "bamboo railway." The Wall Street Journal stated in 1967, "the prospects of hundreds and perhaps thousands of Red Guards descending upon an already troubled Africa is a chilling one for the West." The United States also funded the Tan-Zam Highway, which was built from 1968 to 1973.
Construction was begun in 1970 and operation commenced in October 1975, two year ahead of schedule. Before the railway construction began, 12 Chinese surveyors travelled for nine months on foot from Dar es Salaam to Mbeya in the Southern Highlands to choose and align the railway's path.
In all, from surveying, to construction, to training and management, China sent about 50,000 personnel from 1965 to 1976, including 30,000 to 40,000 workers. An estimated 60,000 Africans participated in the railway's construction. At the height of construction in 1972, there were 13,500 Chinese and 38,000 African workers on the project.
Chinese assistance was provided in large part by the Railway Engineering Corps, then part of the People’s Liberation Army and the foreign aid department of the Ministry of Railways, which later became the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation. Chinese personnel sent to Africa were selected for political dependability, moral probity, technical expertise and personal fitness, and underwent as long as two months of training. Chinese assistance followed the country's socialist ethos of the time, following a labor-intensive instead of a capital-intensive model widely used in the West. Chinese engineers lived and worked according to the same standards as their African counterparts.
Construction camps were set up for each 40-mile (64 km) section of track, being relocated as the work progressed. Papaya and banana trees were grown to provide shade and food, and workers tended vegetable gardens in the camps in off-hours.
The work involved moving 330,000 tons of steel rail and 89 million cubic meters of earth and rock, and the construction of 93 stations, 320 bridges, 22 tunnels and 2,225 culverts. Virtually all building materials, equipment and significant amounts of food and medical supplies were shipped from China, including ambulance vans sent to transport the sick and injured. Braving rain, sun and wind, the workers laid the track through some of Africa's wildest and most rugged landscapes. One Chinese worker recalled that his team was trapped in the wildnerness for a week after floods and landslides washed away the only connecting road. "We lived in fear of lions and hyenas." 
The bridge across the Mpanga River is 160 feet (49 m) in height, and the Irangi Number Tunnel is 1.5 mi (2.4 km) long. The section from Mlimba to Makambako was the most difficult of the route, crossing mountains and steep valleys. Almost 30 percent of the bridges, tunnels, viaducts, and earthworks along the entire route were located in a 10-mile (16 km) stretch of this section.
Over 160 workers, including 64 Chinese nationals, died in construction accidents.
The project pressed forward despite the enormous political upheaval and economic dislocation in China caused by the Cultural Revolution, during which most domestic railway building projects were halted or delayed as vast numbers of government officials were purged. President Liu Shaoqi, who made the initial offer to President Nyerere in 1965, was removed from power in 1966, publicly vilified and died in 1969. In Tanzania, Abdulrahman Mohamed Babu, who had persuaded the Chinese to back the TAZARA, was sentenced to death in 1972 for allegedly plotting to overthrow the Zanzibar government. He was pardoned by Nyerere in 1978.
The TAZARA has been a major economic conduit in the region but it faced operating difficulties from the start and, owing to various subsequent developments, never reached the expected delivery tonnage of two million tons per day.
Within the first years of operation, serious problems arose with maintenance and employees. In their haste to complete the railway ahead of schedule, the Chinese did not train sufficient African technicians to take over management of the railway. Landslides and washouts frequently disrupted service, especially during the rainy season of 1979.
The initial diesel hydraulic locomotives sent by the Chinese were insufficiently powerful to haul heavy loads up the steep escarpment between Mlimba and Makambako. When the Chinese rolling stock broke down, there was limited local capacity to for repair. By 1978, 19 to 27 of the locomotives were out of operation for repair and so were half of the rail cars. Employee theft was serious enough that 20 Zambian crew members were fired in 1978 for stealing and drivers were brought back from China for a return run, and hundreds of other Chinese advisers had their stay extended. These problems resulted in much lengthier than planned turnaround times for freight and in 1978 Zambia had to break ranks and reopen links with Rhodesia for its copper exports.
In 1983, the Tanzania and Zambia invited the Chinese back to help manage the railway. About 250 Chinese managers were assigned to railway bureaus along route. They brought operational profitability to the railway and paid for their expenses through revenues. Cargo reached 985,000 tons, but the Chinese had to issue additional zero-interest loans to pay for spare parts and rehabilitation.
In 1985, seven European countries pledged additional aid to the TAZARA and provided $150 million from 1987 to 1993. China also gave more aid during this period. Passenger traffic on the railway rose from below 500,000 in the early 1980s to 988,000 in 1990. Local goods accounted for nearly half of the cargo shipped on the line between 1985 and 1988.
In the 1990s, the economic performance of the railway began to decline with changes to the broader economic and political environment. With the independence of Namibia in 1990 and the end to apartheid in South Africa in 1994, southern African regimes were no longer dominated by unfriendly white leaders and Zambian copper had more economic outlets to the south and east. Road transport provided competition in the form of the Trans–Caprivi Highway and the Walvis Bay Corridor to Namibia. The completion of the U.S.-sponsored Tan-Zam Highway brought direct roadway competition along route. Traffic fell from 1.2 million tons in 1990 to 630,000 tons in 2003 to 533,000 tons in 2011 and 480,000 tons in 2013.
As China's economy transitioned from socialism to state capitalism, Chinese attitudes towards foreign aid changed. In 1995, China yielded to pressure from other aid donors to force the railway to operate more commercially. Chinese premier Zhu Rongji, on a trip to Tanzania, praised efforts to commercialize the railway, which would improve services. He noted that as many as 2,500 excess staff may have to be laid off.
Service on the TAZARA continued to deteriorate. In 2008, the railway's condition was described as being "on the verge of collapse due to financial crisis," and dangerous track conditions were discovered by Chinese technicians inspecting the line. At the beginning of 2010, the Chinese government gave TAZARA a US$39 million interest-free loan to revive its operations. However, TAZARA management estimated that it would require US$770 million to become commercially viable. The company's cash flow difficulties have led to delays in paying salaries, resulting in frequent strikes by the workforce. In 2011, China wrote off about half of the debts it was owed by the TAZARA, and in October 2012, gave $42 million for four new main locomotives, two shunting locomotives, other equipment, spare parts and staff training. At the time, the TAZARA had only 10 main line locomotives.
In September 2013, the TAZARA was reporting monthly losses of about $1 million on $1.53 million in monthly revenue against $2.5 million in average monthly expenditures.
The railway is described as an economic "lifeline" for Zambia and the government in Lusaka has remained committed to its revitalization. In April 2013, Zambia’s second largest copper miner, Konkola Copper Mines, agreed to re-commence shipping copper on the TAZARA after a five year hiatus. By November 2013, the line was reported shipping 15,000 tons of copper weekly, but still prone to breakdowns and delays. Zambia’s copper output was expected to increase from 850,000 tons in 2013 to 1.5 million tons in 2015. In addition to carrying copper, manganese, cobalt and other minerals for export, the TAZARA also transports Asian imports and fertilizer to Zambia, Congo DR, Malawi, Burundi, and Rwanda.
In March 2014, Tanzanian, Zambian and Chinese officials held talks to recapitalize the TARZARA and to split the management into two companies, one in each of Tanzania and Zambia.
The TAZARA has had a strong impact on the rural regions along route. In the 1970s, the Tanzanian government resettled villagers into ujamaa villages that were near the railway. Initially the villages were tasked with providing security for the railway, against foreign sabotage. As the Tanzanian economy liberalized in the 1990s, the villagers began to use the railway to trade local produce.
The railway also enabled settlers to move to the fertile Kilombero valley, between Mbeya and Kidatu, to grow cash crops such as rice and vegetables that they can readily ship to other communities. As the TAZARA traverses diverse ecosystems, it facilitates trade in local produce across previously isolated communities, including maize, beans and vegetables from the highlands of Makambako, rice from Ifakara, oranges from Mlimba, cooking bananas from Mngeta and Idete. The TAZARA ran the kipsi shuttle trains in the "passenger belt" of southern Tanzania to serve the region. Many settlements have gorn into large towns and districts.
The TAZARA Railway Authority has also become a large state employer. In 40 years of operation, as many as one million people have been employed by the railway.
The TAZARA remains an enduring symbol of the solidarity of the developing world and Chinese support for African independence and development. When Beijing hosted the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, the starting point of the torch relay in Tanzania was the grand terminal of the TAZARA.
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