Chinese-built locomotives fail Tanzania trial runs

A new Tazara 3,000-horsepower locomotive is seen in this file picture. Six engines bought using a Chinese loan are encountering technical difficulties, authorities said. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

Six locomotives bought by the Tanzania Zambia Railway Corporation (Tazara) using a $24 million loan from China are said to have failed several trial runs.

The engines were supposed to boost the corporation’s operations by increasing the tonnage hauled along the 1,860 kilometre stretch between Dar es Salaam and New Kapiri Mposhi in Zambia.

A source at Tazara said that during the first trial run, one of the engines developed technical problems at Mzenga, the first railway station on the Tazara line, just outside Dar es Salaam.

"These engines were delivered at the last Chinese holiday sometime in December; unfortunately none of them has passed a trial run,” the source said.

Tazara currently has nine old locomotives in operation.

Both regional offices of Tazara had been tasked to increase the amount of cargo they haul from 30,000 tonnes to 80,000 tonnes a month under the performance contracts signed by the regional managers in Tanzania and Zambia, but further delays in getting the locomotives operational is likely to hamper the achievement of these ambitious targets.

"Even after the Chinese technical team brought in a different team to look afresh at the locos, nothing worked. They tried running two engines that failed to make it past Mbeya and one of the engines has been abandoned at our workshop there,” said the source.

'Can't cope'

The $24 million paid for the locomotives is part of the $39 million that was given to the ailing railway company jointly owned by the Chinese government under the 14th Protocol of Economic and Technical Co-operation, signed by the governments of China, Tanzania and Zambia in December 2009.

Tanzania’s Minister for Transport, Harrison Mwakyembe, told The EastAfrican that the locomotives had been supplied after a Chinese company won the tender.

“I have been told about the technical problems, but you need to speak to our technicians and engineers who would be in a better position to explain in detail the technical problems. It appears the engines can’t cope with the Tazara terrain,” said Dr Mwakyembe.

According to Tazara’s head of public relations Conrad K. Simuchile, the corporation was aware the manufacturer was facing challenges in putting the new locomotives into operation, but said there was no need “at this stage to be overly concerned because the locomotives are going through a normal trial process after delivery.... and they are still fully in the hands of the manufacturer, who has ample time to rectify the defects, if any.”

The Tazara management last November announced the acquisition of the six new diesel electric (DE) mainline locomotives from China and the re-commissioning of two out of four heavy duty gantry cranes, which was seen as a major boost to the operations of Tazara.

Difficulties

The two projects marked a major step towards the completion of the implementation of capacity building projects under the Protocol. All projects under the 14th Protocol were originally scheduled for completion by the end of 2011, but encountered difficulties.

The six 3,000-horsepower DE locomotives were manufactured in China under licence from the General Electric Company of the US.

Over the years, Tazara has been receiving regular financial support from the Chinese government through what are termed “Protocols of Economic and Technical Co-operation” signed with Tanzania and Zambia in the form of interest-free loans, the 14th Protocol having been signed in December 2009, followed by the 15th protocol in March 2012.

These Protocols have been the major source of recapitalisation for Tazara over the years. At its peak, Tazara used to ferry an average of one million tonnes of cargo per year and over 600,000 passengers.

The “Uhuru Rail” as it is also referred to will now be actively involved in ferrying exports and imports from the DRC after Tazara, Zambia Railway and Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer du Congo (SNCC) signed an agreement that will see locomotives from the DRC ferry goods to the Zambian border at Sakania from where they will be connected to a Zambia Railways locomotive.

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