|Main Region(s):||Tanzania and Zambia|
|Parent company:||Government of Tanzania (50%)
Government of Zambia (50%)
|Track length:||1,860 km (1,160 mi)|
|Gauge:||1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) Cape gauge|
TAZARA was 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 Chinese government sponsored construction of the railway specifically to eliminate Zambia's economic dependence on Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and South Africa, both of which were ruled by white-minority governments. Completion of the line provided landlocked Zambia with an alternative route for its copper exports. 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.
Origins of the project
After World War I, Tanganyika (then German East Africa) was handed over to the United Kingdom for administration as a League of Nations Mandate. A railway was envisioned from Northern Rhodesia (later Zambia) to Tanganyika.
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.
Only a year after Zambia's independence, Rhodesia's government issued its Unilateral Declaration of Independence from Britain, threatening land-locked Zambia's trade routes. President Nyerere of Tanzania and President Kaunda of Zambia 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 more sceptical 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.
After a visit to China in January 1967, Kaunda dropped his objections to Chinese involvement. 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 to be repaid over 30 years.
Chairman Mao originally supported the construction of the railway in order to secure votes against the Soviet Union attending the Asia-Africa summit in Algiers in 1965.
Trade Minister Abdulrahman Mohamed Babu and other ministers from Zanzibar held a very favourable view of China, and were instrumental in pushing Nyerere towards China. 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.
Construction was begun in 1970 and operation commenced six years later. The line starts at the port of Dar-es-Salaam and crosses Tanzania in a south-west direction. It passes through a largely uninhabited area. Since the line opened, there has been industrial development along the line, including a hydroelectric power plant at Kidatu and a paper mill at Rufiji. The line crosses the TAN-ZAM highway at Makambako and runs parallel toward Mbeya and the Zambian border, enters Zambia, and links to Zambia Railways at Kapiri Mposhi. Total length is 1,860 kilometers (1,160 mi) and the final altitude is 1,400 m (4,600 ft).
Running some 1,870 km (1,160 mi) from Dar es Salaam to Zambia's Kapiri Mposhi the railway is sometimes regarded as the greatest engineering effort of its kind since the Second World War. The railway took only five years to build and was finished ahead of schedule in 1975. 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. Thereafter, about 50,000 Tanzanians and 25,000 Chinese were engaged to construct the railway.
Braving rain, sun and wind, the workers laid the track through some of Africa's most rugged landscapes. The work involved moving 330,000 tonnes of steel rail and the construction of 300 bridges, 23 tunnels and 147 stations. 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.
Construction camps were set up for each 40-mile (64 km) section of track, being relocated as the work progressed. Paw-paw and banana trees were grown to provide shade and food, and workers tended vegetable gardens in the camps in off-hours.
Travellers get the opportunity to see Selous's abundance of game – giraffe, elephant, zebra, antelope and warthog, which with time are now used to the rumbling noise of the train. After the Selous, the railway cuts through the fertile Kilombero Valley. It skirts the great Kibasira Swamp before tackling the greatest challenging area between Mlimba (the Kingdom of Elephants) and Makambako (the Place of Bulls). This is the place where constructors of the railway met the greatest challenge. With the track rising to an altitude of 2,500 m (8,200 ft) through contorted mountains, precipitous valleys and deep swamps, it was necessary to construct 18 tunnels, while also crossing four major rivers. Because of the heavy rainfall experienced in this area, intricate drainage works had to be integrated with every feature. At one stage the railway runs over a swamp. 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.
After climbing the Southern Highlands, the railway levels out onto a rolling plateau. Here the weather becomes noticeably cooler, the air sharper. This is the coffee and tea country of Njombe with large estates punctuated only by groves of bamboo and fields of maize.
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. Another is the Songea-bound road, making Makambako a busy town where travellers in transit to Songea, Iringa, Dar es Salaam and Mbeya find their connections. The residents of Makambako capitalise on the opportunity to sell their products to travellers. Young boys and girls do an enterprising trade in fruits, cooked maize, sweet potatoes, roasted chicken, sugar cane, chewing gum and cigarettes.
From Makambako the railway and the highway run a parallel course towards Mbeya running past the Kipengere Range that towers to the left. Mostly grassland, with occasional belts of forest along the river courses, they rise to a height of over 2,400 m (7,900 ft). During the wet season, from December to May, this area becomes an enormous carpet of flowers. Travellers by road have the opportunity of stopping to admire some of the more impressive scenic wonders to be found among the southern splendour. For example, from Kitulo a bracing walk may be made to the summit of Chaluhangi (2,929 m or 9,610 ft). But perhaps the most rewarding is the walk to the summit of Mtwori, which at 2,961 m (9,715 ft), is the highest point in the Southern Highlands.
A four-wheel drive vehicle track leading towards Njombe passes near the mountain base. From here a walking track bears left to the ridge of the mountain where a magnificent plateau is covered by monadenium flowers. Visitors are advised to arrange for escorts and to inquire about track conditions before setting out.
After the Kipengele Mountains, the Uporoto Range takes over with the Usangu Flats stretching to the right. Many streams cross the highway to empty into these flats where game, which has strayed outside the Ruaha National Park, may be sighted.
At Chimala, a track leading south offers a scenic drive to Ntamba in the Uwanji area, where pyrethrum is cultivated. The woodlands include Brachystegia trees, while a variety of flowers, among them the rare Eulophia norlindhii orchid, flourish in the grass beneath the trees. Butterflies and hawk moths add their touch of color. From the top of the Ntamba escarpment one may have a superb view over the Usangu and Buhoro Flats.
These flats form the drainage basin of the Great Ruaha River. The flats, which may be explored from Chimala, are a paradise for botanists, lepidopterists and entomologists. From Chimala the highway and the railway pass through a series of scenic delights, including sights of interesting birds such as martins and swifts, waterfalls and stretches of open savannah with flat swampy areas, usually full of flowers, before entering Mbeya town, clustered around verdant hills with the protective backdrop of the Mbeya Range towering over it. From Mbeya town, both the railway and the highway head north-westwards to Tunduma where they cross the border into Zambia.
Connection to other systems
The gauge is 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) to match that of Zambia Railways. Zambia Railways is connected to South Africa through Zimbabwe, so that TAZARA is a point of access to the railway systems of Central and Southern Africa. There was originally no connection with the 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 3⁄8 in) Tanzania Railways Corporation system at the port of Dar-es-Salaam. A transshipment station was constructed at the break of gauge station of 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 tonnes 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.
Deterioration of TAZARA
The TAZARA has been a major economic conduit in the region but it faced operating difficulties from the start and never lived up to expectations. Within the first years of operation, serious problems arose with maintenance and employees. 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 Chinese were invited to resume management of the railway. They managed to resume operational profitability, but had to issue additional zero-interest loans to pay for maintenance. As China's economy converted 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 noted that as many as 2500 excess staff may have to be laid off.
Service on TAZARA continued to deteriorate through the 1990s. Road transport provided competition in the form of the Trans–Caprivi Highway and the Walvis Bay Corridor to Namibia. Traffic fell from 1.2 million tonnes in 1990 to 630,000 tonnes in 2003. In 2011, only 533,000 tonnes were transported on the line.
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.
- East African Railway Master Plan
- Tanzania Railways Corporation
- Transport in Tanzania
- Transport in Zambia
- Zambia Railways
- Railway stations in Tanzania
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