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US firms look to fix key Congo rail link

Reuters: 6 Apr 2007
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BRAZZAVILLE - U.S. firms hope to renovate a railway linking Congo's capital Brazzaville to the Atlantic, the U.S. envoy said on Friday, days after Korean firms agreed to run a new line to the oil-producing state's interior.

Brazzaville depends heavily on its rail line to the Atlantic oil port of Pointe-Noire, but the 515 km (322-mile) Congo Ocean Railway, known by its French acronym CFCO, has had little serious maintenance since it entered service in 1934.

Brazzaville periodically runs short of essentials such as fuel and cement due to stoppages on the railway, which passes through the Pool region that has seen sporadic violence since a civil war in the 1990s.

"The private companies General Electric and Harsco are ready to renovate the CFCO, and the Congolese authorities only have to give their approval and offer attractive financial terms," U.S. Ambassador Robert Wiesberg told a news conference.

General Electric could either supply new locomotives or repair existing ones, while Harsco's Track Technologies division is proposing to repair and upgrade the railway line itself.

"The railway track has aged a lot, it needs to be 50 percent rehabilitated and that requires lots of money, nearly $600,000 per km, without taking into account some of the work if any needs entirely replacing," said Harsco sales director Nick Tosto, who has travelled the full length of the railway.

Earlier this week a South Korean consortium agreed to build a new 800-km (500-mile) railway north from Brazzaville to Ouesso, on the border with Cameroon, in return for timber concessions in the heavily forested, largely inaccessible area.

Brazzaville lies on the north bank of the huge Congo river, opposite the larger Democratic Republic of Congo's capital Kinshasa, and depends on the rail link with the coastal oil port of Pointe-Noire for most external trade as the Congo is not navigable because of cataracts further downstream.

See also:

Korean group to build Congo railway in timber deal

Reuters: 4 Apr 07

A South Korean consortium has agreed to build a new 800-km (500-mile) railway in Congo Republic in return for timber concessions in the oil-exporting central African country, a Congolese ministry official said.

Timber is Congo's second biggest export after oil, accounting for 7% of gross domestic product, and a number of European and Asian companies hold concessions to cut valuable hardwoods from its large tracts of tropical forest.

But the densely forested north of the country is largely inaccessible, meaning its timber must be transported by road for export from neighbouring Cameroon rather than Congo's own port of Pointe-Noire, costing the Congolese treasury an estimated 25 billion CFA francs a year in lost earnings.

"South Koreans from the Malesian-Korea Resource Consortium have agreed to build a railway from Brazzaville to Ouesso in the Sangha region in the northwest of our country, and in return the government will grant it forestry concessions," said Gabriel Valere Aime Eteka, cabinet director at the forestry ministry.

The company would conduct a two-year feasibility study before signing a final agreement with the Congolese government and starting construction work on the railway, which would be used to transport timber from the new concessions, Eteka said.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday after meeting representatives of the consortium, Eteka said the forestry concessions granted to the consortium were valid for 15-30 years.

Congo's inland capital Brazzaville lies on the north bank of the huge Congo river, opposite the larger Democratic Republic of Congo's capital Kinshasa, and depends on a rail link with the coastal oil port of Pointe-Noire for most trade as the Congo is not navigable because of cataracts further downstream.

See also:

Congo-Ocean Railway

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Wikipedia:

The Congo-Ocean Railway (COR, or CFCO) links the Atlantic port of Pointe-Noire (now in the Republic of Congo) with Brazzaville, a distance of 502 kilometres. It bypasses the rapids on the lower Congo River; from Brazzaville river boats are able to ascend the Congo River and its tributary, the Oubangui River to Bangui.

The railway was constructed, using forced labour, by the French colonial administration between 1924 and 1934, at a heavy cost in human lives. It has been estimated that 17000 of the construction workers, who were mainly recruited from what is now southern Chad and the Central African Republic, died during the construction of the railway. Other estimates were higher.

In 1962, a branch was constructed to Mbinda near the border with Gabon, to connect with the COMILOG Cableway and thus carry manganese ore to Pointe-Noire. The Cableway closed in 1986 when neighbouring Gabon built its own railway to haul this traffic. The branch line remains active nonetheless.