Friday, March 18, 2016

Railways and Gauges: China's Tanzania-Zambia Story

"The Chinese imported everything when they built the Tazara Railway in the 1970s," the European diplomat said. "They even used Chinese gauge and tracks. That railway doesn't link up to the other railways. Other countries getting Chinese-built railways better watch out."

Was this true? Chinese companies are building new railways in Kenya and Nigeria: should people in these countries be wary?

Not if we can believe Wikipedia. The on-line encyclopedia states that Tazara was not built to a Chinese railway gauge. China uses mainly standard gauge (1435 mm). Tazara was built using the Cape gauge (3 ft 6 inches) common across the former British colonies in Southern Africa. Zambia used Cape gauge in its railway system, but German-built lines in colonial Tanzania used a different gauge: 1000 mm (3 ft 3 3/8 inches).

That's why the railways don't link up. It's a problem constructed by competing colonial powers a century ago.

The railway currently being built by a Chinese company across Kenya is using standard gauge, but this wasn't a Chinese decision imposed on Kenya. (For more on Kenya's railway gauge debates, see this link.)

9 comments:

  1. As always the West will try all means to bash Chinese. When will the West give up this bad habit. Smacks of sour grapes

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  2. The only question is why it is such a big fiasco. Why it can not even pay its employees after 1/2 century?
    dan

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  3. Dan, nice to see you back. We have an expert on Tazara: Jamie Monson. I'll see if she has some insights into this. But public infrastructure maintenance and management difficulties are not unique to Chinese-built infrastructure.

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  4. Ha, ha Anonymus. This decission was made more than a century ago. Today the gauge in Europe are the same.

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  5. The standard gauge currently built in Kenya and East Africa is very problematic. Regional leaders picked the far more expensive option of building a whole new line rather than updating the old one. China Road and Bridge Corporation wanted Kenya to guarnetee that all cargo from Mombassa port was going to be used on the new railway, which shows they have concerns over whether it will be profitable enough to get their money back for building it. Kenya didnt agree to that, but still imposed a railway tax on the population as part of the agreement. 'Procurement issues' i.e. local fronts arguing over who gets a cut from the awarded contract, mean Uganda's section is a year behind schedule. Whether you want to blame China or local African governments, East Africa's SGR could well prove to be a massive multi-billion dollar white elephant. Barney

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  6. Thanks @Barney. I haven't seen the draft contracts, but if there was a negotiation over this is clause, it was likely not CRBC but China Eximbank that put it in. CRBC is not financing the SGR--it is 85% China Eximbank and 15% Kenya government (Kenya portion). Would be interesting to know if the railway tax is going into an escrow account to guarantee the loan.

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  7. ah, my bad Prof Braughtigam and thank you yes of course. I dont know about the escrow account, but can try and dig around for that info

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  8. @Barney -- thanks, let me know if you come up with something. We will soon be publishing a policy brief on the SGR, FYI.

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  9. yes, quick google seems like escrow account
    - https://issuu.com/kenyaengineer/docs/kenya_engineer_sept-oct_2014
    - http://nextgeninfraworld.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/kenyas-sgr-mombasa-nairobi-vs-ethiopia.html
    - http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/Truckers-lose-out-in-China-bank-railway-funding-deal/-/539546/2218808/-/n6kkyq/-/index.html
    - http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:Uh5NvaOd6uAJ:www.shipperscouncilea.org/index.php%3Foption%3Dcom_joomdoc%26task%3Ddoc_download%26gid%3D213%26Itemid%3D9+&cd=2&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=uk

    those links differ in their reliability though I guess

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