Until 2002, it was European companies that were the principle suppliers, advisers and backers of African rail projects. Since then however, China has become dominant force, funding on average of $160 billion of rail infrastructure a year. More than one million Chinese labourers have moved to the continent in the last ten years. In 2011, China’s rail sector sent 452,000 workers abroad, of which 243,000 were engaged in construction work on African rail projects accounting for 53.8% of the projects’ total workforce. The figures underline how Africa has becomes China’s largest overseas market for its rail industry, currently active in 35 African countries. This investment, however much needed, has not avoided controversy. There are some that see the importing of workers as ultimately damaging to the local economies, as a core of local-skilled staff isn't developed and a reliance on foreign expertise is required beyond the building of the project. Could it be a form of economic imperliasm? Or are China just operating as any other country would (and how European powers used to) in their commerical dealings? Today, in a special feature, SmartRail World has looked into how five of the most recent African rail projects managed by Chinese corporations work, and how they are affecting those involved.
- Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway Project, Kenya
This Kenyan rail project began construction in October 2013 and plans to be finished next year. It is hoped that the line will open up the region and ease congestion along heavily congested roads. Upon completion, the line will be 609km long providing 60 new jobs for every kilometre of track amounting to a total of 30,000 employment opportunities for Kenyans. Previous rail infrastructure in the country has been poorly maintained with few services and ageing rolling stock. Since then it has been decided by the Kenyan government that more needed to be done to improve the interconnectivity within the region. Mombasa and Nairobi are the largest two cities in the country popular with tourists and has a strategic location for trade located so close to the Indian Ocean. The Mombasa-Nairobi SGR is the biggest infrastructure project in Kenya since the country’s independence. It will shorten the passenger travel time from Mombasa to Nairobi from more than ten hours to a little more than four hours. Freight trains will complete the journey in less than eight hours. Each passenger train will have a capacity of 1,096 people with a speed of 80 kph.
It was initially agreed that the Mombasa-Nairobi phase of the project was estimated to cost $3.8 billion. Chinese Exim Bank would provide 90% of the financing while the remaining 10% was agreed to be contributed by the Kenyan Government. However, the rail track faced financial difficulties last year when it was finally agreed by Kenyan and Chinese governments that they would seek financial assistance from Chinese aid worth a further $152.4 million. This financial binding has meant that the China Road and Bridge Corporation, a subsidiary of China Communications Construction Co., was contracted to build the project according to Chinese railway design standards.
The announcement was not well received by Kenyan locals. The International Business Times reported that it triggered local protests in a surge of anti-Chinese violence. The Kenyan government were forced to stop work from proceeding on the country's significant railway project. The clashes arose after 200 youths attacked Chinese contract workers for stealing local working opportunities. However, statistics available in a report by the African Quartz it explains that 25,000 Kenyans were hired to work on the railway. Since this delay, the railway's construction is still looking to reach its schedule and CRBC’s parent company, China Communications Construction Company, will operate the railway on a five-year contract as well as suppling the rolling stock of 56 diesel locomotives, 1,620 wagons and 40 coaches.
- Zambia – Malawi railway
Rail transport in Zambia and Malawi is a long way behind most of the world's infrastructure. Malawi Railways is the national rail network in Malawi, run by a government corporation until privastisation in 1999. Until now, Malawi have not had any trains which connect with other countries. By contrast, Zambia has three national routes: Livingstone - Lusaka, Lusaka - Copperbelt, Kapiri Mposhi to the Northern border with Tanzania. This month it was finally announced the first interconnecting railway development taking place in the two countries.
“This project is meant to enhance regional and international trade through the Nacala Development Corridor with a direct economic stimulus in Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique”, Minister of Transport & Communication Brian Mushimba said at the signing ceremony in Lusaka, as reported from the Railway Gazette.
It has been issued by the the Ministry of Transport & Communications that CCECC have been granted a $2·26 billion four-year contract to design and build the Zambia East Line. It is planned that the line will run for 388·8km from Serenje on the Zambian Railways network to Petauke and Chipata. Once the project has been completed, the Chinese company will begin constructing the Zambia East Line which will create a 1,500 km route from Kapiri Mposhi to the Indian Ocean at Nacala. It is hoped to improve international trade and economic integration. The single track line will be able to transport passengers at 120 km/h and freight trains running at 80 km/h.
The rail project is expected to be completed in four years time. Chairman of Northwest Rail Co Enoch Kavindele has told local media that construction of a railway from Chingola in Copperbelt Province to Solwezi in North-Western Province is to begin in January. He said the government would acquire a 30% share in the project and the work will be backed by the African Development Bank and Development Bank of Southern Africa.
- Lagos Rail Mass Transit System, Nigeria
Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city is in the middle of constructing a new rail system comprising of seven lines. This project is part of the Strategic Transport Master Plan which has been proposed to improve infrastructure in the densely populated region. It is part of an ongoing 30 year plan to assist the transportation demands of the fast growing Lagos State as one of the world’s fastest growing cities. The Lagos Urban network will function as a network to tackle the high volumes of commuter traffic.
Railway Technology informed how the project will be sponsored by the Lagos State Government (LSG) and will be developed by Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA) on behalf of LSG. This is the only rail project in the world which has been built without any financial support from the national government. Although the CCECC in the region were still awarded the task to build the project’s first line – the Blue line and survey the project after it has been completed. The tracks will run over 27.5km connecting Okokomaiko to Marina complete with 13 stations and a travel time of 35 minutes. It is expected that this will carry 400,000 passengers a day with a full capacity of 700,000 when the route is fully operational. The contract includes the basic design and construction of the rail infrastructure. CCECC has completed 90% of the structural work for the line. However, the project did meet some difficulty as many changes occurred along the way. One of these was in January 2015; LAMATA selected Chinese built trains from CNR Dalian rather than their initial agreement with America. Secondly, the Blue Line was expected to be completed by 2014 but it is now scheduled for next month due to funding problems with LAMATA.
Last year work finally began on the first stage of the Red Line. Funding negotiations took eight years to discuss. The line will run from Marina station in central Lagos to Agbado in neighboring Ogun State, with a branch serving Lagos’ airport. It will share tracks with the east-west Blue Line from Marina to the Lagos Harbor crossing before turning north. It is yet to be decided the approximate completion date.
- Ethiopia-Djibouti Railway Line Modernisation, Ethiopia
Infrastructure in the East of the continent saw the Ethiopia-Djibouti line updated in 2007. After the Second World War, political destruction ruined large areas of the track. As a result, passenger traffic dropped significantly and the train could not afford to operate. Then in 1977-78, the Ogaden War also effected the line as Somali troops invaded Ethiopia and claimed the railway to Dire Dawa. More areas of the tracks were blown up and the tracks were not restored until the Ethiopian and Djibouti governments discussed how foreign aid could help restore the line. It was agreed in 2006 that the European Commission would denote a grant worth €50 million. But after further rehabilitation failures, the two governments sourced funding from Exim Bank of China. It was agreed that $3 billion worth of loans would help to build an electrified railway. The new railway connects Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa – Djiibouti and was built by CCECC and China Railway Group between 2011 and 2016. The modernisation upgrade has been designed so that trains will travel at speeds of 120kmh.
The Ethiopia-Djibouti project was constructed with a total investment of $4bn according to the Railway Gazette. The Ethiopian section of the line cost $3.4bn, 70% of which was provided by China Exim Bank and 30% by the Ethiopian government. The Djibouti Government contributed $878m for the project. Railway Technology reports that the construction employed approximately 20,000 local workers in Ethiopia and 5,000 in Djibouti. However, the Chinese funder maintained that the new line would be constructed in compliance with chinese electrified railway standards and that chinese staff would manage operations on the line for five years. During this period local employees will be given specialist training on the operations. The railway is the first step in a 5,000km-long network of rail which Ethiopia hopes to build by 2020, connecting it to Kenya, Sudan and South Sudan.
- Abuja-Kaduna Rail Line, Nigeria
In 2011, Nigeria witnessed the initial construction of the Abuja-Kaduna rail line which was planned to be completed in December 2014 until the project received funding difficulties from the government’s side of the deal. Once again, CCECC was behind the construction of the line. With the contract worth $876 million, a Chinese loan had to cover $500 million of the costs with the federal government covering the remainder of this.The $8.3bn contract for the Lagos-Kano standard gauge modernisation project awarded to CCECC in 2006 which stands as the beginning of the project. The next segment to undergo standard gauge renovations is the 312km-long Lagos-Ibadan rail line, which is a double-track standard gauge line scheduled for completion in 2016. A $1.53bn contract was awarded to CCECC in August 2012 to commercially deliver the project within the next four years as recorded by Railway Technology.
Abuja-Kaduna is a 186km rail line with standard gauge railway tracks from Idu, near Abuja, to Kaduna in the north-western region of Nigeria. It has nine stations and features both passenger and cargo trains. The passenger trains on the line can operate at a speed between an impressive 200kmh and 250kmh. The travel time between Abuja and Kaduna will be reduced to one hour and each passenger train can transport up to 5,000 people. However, President Muhammadu Buhari has only just opened the first phase of the Abuja-Kaduna Standard Rail Gauge for services, promising to boost rail transportation in the country.
A light rail line which is under construction to link the central business district to the airport from December 2017.The project employed approximately 4,000 local people and is expected to create more than 5,000 additional jobs during operation.
Editor's Comment: Although the first railway was opened in Africa, in Alexandria, Eqypt in 1852, increased political stability, booming populations, growing urbanization, mineral and hydro-carbon discoveries and the heightened interest of private equity have all helped fuel recent major railway growth after years of neglect. However, the most crucial factor in the developing African rail industry is as this features highlights, the influence of China, who despite warnings on their own domestic economy, are continuing to invest huge sums in the continent. Investment is what African rail needs, and with European and North American sources unwilling or unable, China will be likely to continue as the lead driver.
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