PUBLISHED ON July 24th, 2014


Travelling or moving cargo by train is, on the whole, much less expensive than flying. It is also generally cheaper than water transport. Additionally, it serves the most number of people and the most cargo at a go.

This makes railway services the most accessible to ordinary people, in part because trains make it even to remote villages where costly renovations would have to be made before they could be reached by air and where it is simply impossible to reach by ship or boat.

This partly explains why during the colonial times railways were used to extend the colonial presence all the way from the Indian Ocean coast right to the hinterland of the then Tanganyika, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.

Following the 1977 collapse of the East African Community, Tanzania established the Tanzania Railways Corporation (TRC) – which took over from the East African Railways Corporation.

For a number of years TRC services were smooth, chiefly thanks to donor assistance of development partners including Canada and the United Kingdom. Their support went into the development of rail lines, locomotives, wagons, coaches, etc.

With this assistance, services went so well that TRC once introduced daily passenger train services from Dar es Salaam to Kigoma and Mwanza on the Central Line – and at one time goods trains hauled close to one million tonnes a year.

There were also passenger and cargo trains plying the Link Line from Dar es Salaam to Tanga, Moshi, Arusha and the Kenyan port city of Mombasa.

The resounding success was mainly thanks to the generous investment the sector enjoyed. The purpose was to keep railway services going after the collapse of the EAC and, by extension, the EARC.

However, since the privatisation of TRC little investment was made by the private firm that took it over – RITES of India. As a result, today both passenger and goods trains no longer operate to satisfaction.

We understand that goods trains now hardly haul even as little as less than half a million tonnes of cargo a year, while passenger train services are terribly erratic.

One hardly knows when there is a passenger train running, as there is no fixed timetable, much less being sure of arriving at one’s destination safely and on schedule.

On numerous occasions, passenger trains break down on the way, giving passengers an extremely difficult time.

We therefore fully understand the fury with which some Members of Parliament have discussed this mess. One of them has gone to the extent of suggesting that the railway transport woes are due to the government’s reluctance to renovate (read invest in) the railway network.

Yes, efforts have been made to bring railway services back to their good old days and even make them even better, but we need to do much more – and faster.
This is because trains have the potential to beat all other modes of transport, if carefully managed.

Investing more in railway services can easily point to the most realistic solution to this country’s transport and other economic woes. At the end of it all, it would make life easier than now for the nation.

Source: IPP Media

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of TradeMark Africa.