Relief in sight for Nacala Corridor

Aug 8, 2005
Author: P&S

After being strongly criticised by the Mozambique government, the consortium operating the Nacala railway corridor between the northern Mozambique port and Malawi – the landlocked country’s sole rail outlet to the sea – has taken steps to overcome the shortage of locomotive power by importing four diesel-electric locomotives from one of Grindrod Group’s companies, Sheltam Locomotive & Rail Services.

The consortium, Nacala Corridor Development Company (SDCN), is led by US-based Railroad Development Corporation and is thought to be sourcing locomotives from elsewhere with the Sheltam locomotives acting as a stopgap until they arrive.


Four diesel-electric locomotives arrive at Maydon Wharf from Spoornet’s Wentworth Diesel Shed – several hours late! Picture Terry Hutson

The four locos, Sheltam numbers 9, 12, 14 and 17 have been supplied on a limited time charter basis and will be repatriated to South Africa at the end of the contract. Sheltam is also providing maintenance and operating crew.

The diesel-electric locos left Durban this weekend (Sunday 7 August) as deck cargo on board the MUR Shipping freighter African Sanderling. Sheltam currently has another five locomotives working elsewhere in Mozambique.

Stevedoring functions at Maydon Wharf were handled by P&O Ports Nationwide, who had to construct a special spreader bar to assist with loading each loco weighing 55 tonnes after removal of the bogies. The bogies were loaded separately. The spreader bar also traveled with the ship to be used with discharging the locos at Nacala and will be returned to Durban.

Global Portside Services performed the ships agency on behalf of MUR Shipping, with King & Sons attending to the clearing and forwarding of the locos on behalf of Sheltam.


Another loco goes on board the Metall und Rohstoff freighter African Sanderling in Durban Harbour. Once the locos had arrived at the wharfside and some initial problems with the spreader bar were overcome, the loading operation using ships own gear proved to be quick and efficient. Picture Terry Hutson

Addressing a parliamentary commission in Maputo recently Mozambique’s transport minister Antonio Mungwambe accused the SDCN of not achieving very much since taking on the railway concession. He said however that work at the port itself, also operated by SDCN, was progressing well.

The SDCN, headed by US-based Railroad Development Corporation (RDC), holds the concession to operate the railway from the port of Nacala to the Malawi border, which has deteriorated badly through lack of maintenance and through cyclonic damage. The RDC also heads a similar consortium to operate the railways within landlocked Malawi and the concession for the Nacala Corridor was seen as completing the transaction. The latter has however taken five years to bring to fruition.

When it took over the railway in January the Nacala Corridor had just four locomotives in service, which included having to provide a passenger service.
The four have since been reduced to three following the complete breakdown of one unit.

Dissatisfaction with Maputo Corridor

Mungwambe also complained that nothing had been achieved since concessioning the railway between the port of Maputo and the South African border in 2002. A consortium headed by Spoornet was awarded this concession but has so far not begun operating the services – Spoornet is believed to be demanding a greater share of the consortium.

The minister said the delay was having adverse implications for the port of Maputo resulting in lower than expected levels of cargo between South Africa and Maputo and as a result traffic had to be diverted to Durban. The matter had now been taken up by the two countries at presidential level.

He said the only Mozambique railway concession that was working well was the central railway between the port of Beira and the Zimbabwe border, although traffic volumes were considerably down because of Zimbabwe’s economic problems.

Mtwara Corridor

The Zambian government joined in the calls to all concerned to speed up implementing both the Nacala and Mtwara Corridors, saying that these would promote economic activities between Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania and Mozambique.

A feasibility study is currently underway towards constructing a railway from the southern Tanzanian port of Mtwara inland to northern Malawi and Zambia.



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