TAZARA Railway: Wikis


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TAZARA Logo.png

The TAZARA Railway (also called the Uhuru Railway, from the Swahili word for Freedom, and the Tanzam Railway) was built between 1970 and 1975 by the Tanzania-Zambia Railway Authority (abbreviated to 'TAZARA') to serve landlocked Zambia as an alternative to rail lines via Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), South Africa,[1] and Mozambique.

The railroad was a turnkey project financed and executed by the People's Republic of China. Total costs were about US $500 million, making it the largest foreign-aid project ever undertaken by China.



After World War I, Tanganyika (then German East Africa) was handed over to Britain for administration as a League of Nations Mandate. A railway was envisioned from Northern Rhodesia (later Zambia) to Tanganyika. However, the plans lay dormant in the worldwide economic depression of the 1930s.

Following World War II, interest in railway construction revived. A map from April 1949 in the Railway Gazette showed a line from Dar es Salaam to Kapiri Mposhi, not far from the route that would eventually be taken by the Chinese railroad[2]. A report in 1952 by Sir Alexander Gibb and Partners concluded that the Northern Rhodesia-Tanganyika railway would not be economically justified, due to the low level of agricultural development and the fact that existing railways through Mozambique and Angola were adequate for carrying copper exports [3]. A World Bank report in 1964 also concluded that the line was uneconomical, suggesting that a road should be built instead.

Only a year after Zambia's independence, Rhodesia's white-supremacist government issued its Unilateral Declaration of Independence from Britain, threatening Zambia's trade routes. President Nyerere of Tanzania and President Kaunda of Zambia pursued different avenues for the construction of an alternative rail route. Nyerere, after a visit to Beijing, accepted a team of Chinese surveyors, who produced a short report in October 1966. Kaunda was more skeptical of Communist involvement and pursued Western backing. The resulting Canadian-British aerial survey produced a favorable report in July 1966, but Western funding was not forthcoming[4].

After a visit to China in January 1967, Kaunda dropped his objections to Chinese involvement[5]. On September 6, 1967, an agreement was signed in Beijing by the three nations. China committed itself to building a railroad between Tanzania and Zambia, supplying an interest-free loan to be repaid over 30 years[6].


General Electric U30C locomotive at Mlimba station

Construction was begun in 1970 and operation commenced six years later. The line starts at the port of Dar-es-Salaam and crosses Tanzania in a south-west direction. It passes through a largely uninhabited area. Since the line opened, there has been industrial development along the line, including a hydroelectric power plant at Kidatu and a paper mill at Rufiji. The line crosses the TAN-ZAM highway at Makambako and runs parallel toward Mbeya and the Zambian border, enters Zambia, and links to Zambia Railways at Kapiri Mposhi. Total length is 1,860 kilometers (1,156 mi) and the final altitude is 1,400 m.

Running some 1,870km from Dar es Salaam to Zambia's Kapiri Mposhi the railway is regarded as the greatest engineering effort of its kind since the Second World War. The railway took only five years to build and was finished ahead of schedule in 1975. Before the railway construction began, 12 Chinese surveyors travelled for nine months on foot from Dar es Salaam to Mbeya in the Southern Highlands to choose and align the railway's path. Thereafter, about 50,000 Tanzanians and 25,000 Chinese were engaged to construct the historical railway.

Braving rain, sun and wind, the workers successfully laid the track through Africa's most rugged landscape. The work involved moving 330,000 tonnes of steel rail and the construction of 300 bridges, 23 tunnels and 147 stations. The bridge across the Mpanga River towered 160 feet in height, and the Irangi Number Tunnel tunnel was one and a half miles long[7]. These impressive figures are silent testimony of the struggle and hardship of the workers, many of whom gave their lives. The section from Mlimba to Makambako was the most difficult of the route, crossing mountains and steep valleys. Almost 30 percent of the bridges, tunnels, viaducts, and earthworks along the entire route were located in a 10-mile stretch of this section.

Construction camps were set up for each 40 mile section of track, being relocated as the work progressed. Paw-paw and banana trees were grown to provide shade and food, and workers tended vegetable gardens in the camps in off-hours.[8].


Beginning in Dar es Salaam, the railway cuts through the coastal strip before passing between Mikumi National Park and the vast Selous Game Reserve.

Travellers get the opportunity to see Selous' abundance of game - giraffe, elephant, zebra, antelope and warthog, which with time are now used to the rumbling noise of the train. After the Selous, the railway cuts through the fertile Kilombero Valley. It skirts the great Kibasira Swamp before tackling the greatest challenging area between Mlimba (the Kingdom of Elephants) and Makambako (the Place of Bulls). This is the place where constructors of the railway met the greatest challenge. With the altitude rising 2,500m through contorted mountains, precipitous valleys and deep swamps, it was necessary to construct 18 tunnels, which cross four major rivers. Because of the heavy rainfall experienced in this area, intricate drainage works had to be integrated with every feature. At one stage the railway runs over an aquatic. But perhaps, the most spectacular feature is the bridge across Mpanga River valley, which stands above the river on three 50m tall pillars.

After climbing the Southern Highlands, the railway levels out onto a rolling plateau. Here the weather becomes noticeably cooler, the air sharper. This is the coffee and tea country of Njombe with large estates punctuated only by groves of bamboo and fields of maize. During the months of June and July, frost, and even an occasional sprinkling of snow, is not uncommon.

On the approach to Makambako the Udzungwa Mountains National Park raise 2,137m to the north, while the Kipengere Mountains roll ahead to the south. Makambako is one of the meeting points of the railway and the Tanzania-Zambia Highway. Additionally is the Songea-bound road, making Makambako a busy town where travellers in transit to Songea, Iringa, Dar es Salaam and Mbeya find their connections. The residents of Makambako capitalise on the opportunity to sell their products to travelers. Young boys and girls do an enterprising trade in fruits, cooked maize, sweet potatoes, roasted chicken, sugar cane, chewing gum and cigarettes.

From Makambako the railway and the highway run a parallel course towards Mbeya. They run past the Kipengere Mountains that towers to the left. Mostly grassland, with occasional belts of forest along the river courses, they rise to a height of over 2400m. During the wet season, from December to May, this area becomes an enormous carpet of flowers. Travellers by road have the opportunity of stopping to admire some of the more impressive scenic wonders to be found among the southern splendor. For example, from the vicinity of Kitulo, a bracing walk may be made to the summit of Chaluhangi (2929m). But perhaps the most rewarding is the walk to the summit of Mtwori, which at 2,961m, is the highest point in the Southern Highlands.

A four-wheel drive vehicle track leading towards Njombe passes near the mountain base. From here a walking track bears left to the ridge of the mountain where a magnificent plateau is covered by monadenium flowers. Visitors are advised, however to arrange for escorts and to inquire about track conditions before setting out.

After the Kipengele Mountains, the Uporoto Range takes over with the Usangu Flats stretching to the right. Many streams cross the highway to empty into these flats where game, which has strayed outside the Ruaha National Park, may be sighted.

At Chimala, a track leading south offers a scenic drive to Ntamba in the Uwanji area, where pyrethrum is cultivated. Here the lovely woodlands include Brachystegia trees, while a variety of flowers, among them the rare Eulophia norlindhii orchid, flourish in the grass beneath the trees. Butterflies and hawk moths add their touch of color. From the top of the Ntamba escarpment one may have a superb view over the Usangu and Buhoro Flats.

These flats form the drainage basin of the Great Ruaha River. The flats which, may be explored from Chimala, are a paradise for botanasits, lepidopterists and entomologists. From Chimala the highway and the railway pass through a series of scenic delights, including sights of interesting birds such as martins and swifts, waterfalls and stretches of open savannah with flat swampy areas, usually full of flowers, before entering Mbeya town.

Clustered around verdant hills with the protective backdrop of the Mbeya Ranges towering over it, Mbeya was founded in 1927 to serve the gold mines at Lupa. After the gold fields were closed in 1956 the town continued to grow, relying on its agricultural production, to become a scenic gem in its setting amongst the southern splendor. From Mbeya town, both the Tazara and the highway, head northwestwards to Tunduma where they cross the border to Zambia.

Connection to other systems

The gauge is 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) to match Zambia Railways. Zambia Railways are connected to Zimbabwe, and South Africa, so that TAZARA is a point of access to the railroad systems of Central and Southern Africa. There was originally no connection with the 1,000 mm (3 ft 3+38 in) Tanzania Railways Corporation system at the port of Dar-es-Salaam. A transshipment station has existed at the break of gauge station of Kidatu since 1998.

TAZARA train station in Ifakara


  • TAZARA uses the American style AAR coupling. [9]
  • TAZARA use Air/Vacuum brakes ??

There are 22 tunnels in the Udzunga Mountains which limit the loading gauge.

Towns served by TAZARA


The PRC government sponsored construction of the railway specifically to eliminate Zambia's economic dependence on Rhodesia and South Africa.[1] The TAZARA has been a major economic conduit in the region. However, it has never been profitable and more recently it has suffered from competition from road transport (such as the Transcaprivi Highway and Walvis Bay Corridor to Namibia) and the re-orientation of Zambia's economic links towards South Africa after the end of apartheid.[10] See following section.

Future of TAZARA

In 2005 the governments of Tanzania and Zambia agreed to privatize TAZARA due to a serious fall in traffic from 1.2mT in 1990 to 630kT in 2003 and a need for $25m worth of locomotive repairs.

Officials of the governments opened meetings on April 20, 2006. While the method of privatization was not determined at that time, officials stated that Chinese interests may be given priority due to their previous involvement in the railway.[11]

A decision may be made in February 2007.[12]

As of October 2008, a Tanzanian newspaper described the railway's condition as being "on the verge of collapse due to financial crisis", with the company being three months late on paying worker's wages and most of its 12 locomotives being out of service.[13]

See also


  1. ^ a b Thomas W. Robinson and David L. Shambaugh. Chinese Foreign Policy: theory and practice, 1994. Page 287.
  2. ^ Richard Hall and Hugh Peyman, The Great Uhuru Railway: China's Showpiece in Africa. London: Gollancz, 1976. p. 31
  3. ^ Hall and Peyman, p. 32
  4. ^ Hall and Peyman, p. 88
  5. ^ Hall and Peyman, p.98
  6. ^ Hall and Peyman, p. 100
  7. ^ Hall and Peyman, p. 138
  8. ^ Hall and Peyman, p. 127
  9. ^ RailwaysAfrica 2008/1 p8
  10. ^ Seat 61 website accessed 20 February 2007
  11. ^ Edwin, Wilfred (2006-04-23). "Tanzania, Zambia in talks over sale of joint railway". The East African. http://www.nationmedia.com/eastafrican/current/News/News2404200614.htm. Retrieved 2006-04-27.  
  12. ^ Railways Africa website accessed 20 February 2007.
  13. ^ "Save the’Uhuru Railway’ from collapse" "This Day", Wednesday, October 29 2008.

External links


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