Joining up to increase exports via rail network

The key to maximising Zambia’s mining exports and diversifying its export markets is the country’s rail network. Lying at the heart of central Southern Africa, it relies on transporting all of its exports through neighbouring states to either Atlantic or Indian Ocean ports. Railways across the continent suffered from underinvestment for several decades but the decade long boom in commodity prices has triggered a renaissance in railway development.


At present, Zambia relies on its connection with Dar es Salaam via the Tanzania Zambia Railway (Tazara) to export copper. The line was originally built in the 1970s with Chinese money, engineering and workers as a means of exporting Zambian copper without relying on Apartheid-era South Africa. The line has experienced operational and financial difficulties for many years but last year Beijing agreed to fund upgrades and the purchase of new rolling stock. In February 2013, the government awarded a concession to construct and operate the line to Grindrod Mauritius, which is a subsidiary of South Africa’s Grindrod, and Zambia’s Northwest Rail Company (NWR).

The 590km line will connect Chingola in the Copperbelt to Angola’s Benguela Railway at the Zambian-Angolan border. The rehabilitation of the Benguela line, which runs westwards to the port of Lobito, is approaching completion and will be ready long before the new Zambian railway comes on line. Mining companies operating in Zambia will then be able to export production via Lobito, which was the main port for Zambian copper until the Angolan civil war broke out in 1975

The new railway will be constructed in two phases: 290km from Chingola to the Kalumbila, Kansanshi and Lumwana mines; and then 300km from there to the Angolan border. Construction costs are estimated at $989m. NWR chairman Enoch Kavindele says: “I have been developing this project for a number of years and the synergies with Grindrod’s Rail businesses makes Grindrod an ideal partner in the joint venture and means we will be able to bring this project to being in the shortest possible time”.

Kavindele, who was previously Vice-President of Zambia, originally secured the concession for NWR to develop and operate the line in 2006. The equity to be held by each partner has not yet been specified.

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