中文   Information of the Ambassador   Information of the Embassy   Bilateral Relations   Selected Media Reports   Consular Services & Visas   Brief Introduction to China   Topics   Contact Us 
  Home > Selected Media Reports
TAZARA: How the great Uhuru Railway was built


(Compiled by Hilal K. Sued and published on Page 12-13, The African, Saturday April 7, 2012 )


The TAZARA Railway (also called the Uhuru Railway, Swahili for Freedom Railway, or the Tanzam Railway) was built between 1970 and 1975 by the Tanzania-Zambia Railway Authority (abbreviated to 'TAZARA') to give landlocked Zambia a link to the Tanzanian port of Dar es Salaam, as an alternative to export routes via rail lines to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), South Africa, 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 single item foreign-aid project ever undertaken by China.

After World War I, Tanganyika (then German East Africa) was handed over to the United Kingdom 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. 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. 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.

Chairman Mao originally promoted funding the railway, then estimated at 1 billion USD, in order to secure votes against the Soviet Union attending the Asia-Africa summit in Algiers in 1965. After a visit to China in January 1967, Kaunda dropped his objections to Chinese involvement.

Abdulrahman Mohamed Babu had a key role to play in obtaining Chinese aid for the project. According to his memoirs, Julius Nyerere wanted to build on Zanzibar's close ties with China and create benefits for the whole country. Babu was named head of the trade delegation that preceded Nyerere's presidential delegation to China in 1964.

The outcome of his trip was a trade agreement (separate from the £11 million aid agreement) for £5 million a year for five years. Under this agreement the Tanzanians were to buy whatever they could afford from the Chinese but the Chinese were to buy £5 million worth a year from Tanzania. The Chinese would pay cash for the balance not taken up by purchases from Tanzania.

Due to his personal experience with the Chinese and his ideological affinity for their progressive model of development, Babu seized the initiative and mentioned the difficulties his government faced in trying to secure financing for the TAZARA Railway proposal. On 1 July 1965 the Chinese Government made a firm offer of tied aid to the Governments of Tanzania and Zambia, worth £75 million and £150 million to enable them to build the railway line.

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.

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 (1,160 mi) and the final altitude is 1,400 m (4,600 ft).

Running some 1,870 km (1,160 mi) from Dar es Salaam to Zambia's Kapiri Mposhi the railway is sometimes 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 some of 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 (49 m) in height, and the Irangi Number Tunnel tunnel was one-half mile (0.8 km) long.

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 (16 km) stretch of this section.

Construction camps were set up for each 40-mile (64 km) 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.

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 track rising to an altitude of 2,500 m (8,200 ft) through contorted mountains, precipitous valleys and deep swamps, it was necessary to construct 18 tunnels, while also crossing 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 a swamp. But perhaps, the most spectacular feature is the bridge across Mpanga River valley, which stands above the river on three 50 m (164 ft) 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 rise 2,137 m (7,011 ft) to the north, while the Kipengere Range roll ahead to the south. Makambako is one of the meeting points of the railway and the Tanzania-Zambia Highway. Another 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 running past the Kipengere Range that towers to the left. Mostly grassland, with occasional belts of forest along the river courses, they rise to a height of over 2,400 m (7,900 ft).

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. The 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.

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 Range towering over it. From Mbeya town, both the railway and the highway head northwestwards to Tunduma where they cross the border into Zambia.

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.

<Suggest To A Friend>