Freight service provider Grindrod’s wholly owned subsidiary Grindrod Mauritius and Zambian firm Northwest Rail Company (NWR) have signed an agreement to build, operate and maintain a new 590km cape gauge railway from Chingola to the Angola border.

NWR received the exclusive rights for the project from the Zambian Government in July 2006.

The agreement will enable the firms to conclude the bankable feasibility study which is currently underway.

The $989m railway project will be built in two phases with an estimated capital of $489m for phase I and $500m for phase II.

The 290km track under phase I will extend from Chingola to the Kansanshi, Lumwana and Kalumbila mines, and is intended to service existing ore and finished copper traffic.

Phase II will connect with the Benguela line on the Zambian-Angola border near Jimbe, and is aimed to open up a direct corridor to Lobito which would allow landlocked Zambia to import oil directly from Angola, and to stimulate further mining activity in the Western Copperbelt region.

Construction is expected to begin this year and is subject to the conclusion of the phase I bankability feasibility study.

Grindrod Freight Services Ports & Rail CEO Dave Rennie said: "This investment will enable Grindrod to extract synergies from our existing investments in the North South rail corridor and our port operations in Maputo, Richards Bay and Durban.

"We also see great potential in creating an Atlantic gateway to Central Africa through Lobito and look forward to playing our part in making this a reality with the development of Phase II."

Image: The 50km Northwest Rail route from Lumwana to Kalumbila. Photo: courtesy of the African Press Organization.