Hundreds of tonnes of cement, presently stacked at the Tanga Cement Company (TCC) to await clearance to the Central Corridor, may take longer to be moved out of the factory as the only locomotive an 88 class – is still in ailing condition.
The delay in clearance of the consignment, about 1,800 tons by Tanzania Railway Limited (TRL) locomotives, is ostensibly precipitated by poor pulling power of the diesel locomotive, the only hauler of the cargo assigned to clear cement loads from the giant Tanga-based plant.
The Canadian made locomotive is understandably overworked, with its age notwithstanding; it is still expected to haul hundreds of tonnes, in most cases above 1,000 per trip.
Impeccable sources within the country’s railway have it that the locomotive was one of the few which were imported to the country in the late 70s during the phasing out of the German-made steam locomotives.
Available reports say that the locomotive, whose prime role is to ferry the consignments from Pongwe to Ruvu, is only capable of hauling cement load as low as 400 tonnes from Pongwe to Korogwe, against the established load of 580 tonnes. A case in point was last week’s serious awkward movement of the locomotive where it took over 10 hours to cover a distance of only 67 kilometres.
Under normal circumstances, the distance is covered in three hours.
“Because of the locomotive’s poor pulling power, train loads of cement have to be ferried to Korogwe from Pongwe in piecemeal,” said a source who opted for anonymity.
“The most the locomotive can haul from Pongwe to Korogwe is seven container wagons – loaded with a total of 540 tonnes,” the source hinted. From Korogwe, the container loads, brought there in two piecemeal, are then assembled to form a train block containing a load of 1,100 tonnes before it moves down to Ruvu, where the wagons are detached to await further clearance through the Central Line by Mwanza and Kigoma bound locomotives from Dar es Salaam.
The Korogwe-Ruvu stretch has fewer up gradients compared to the Pongwe-Korogwe section of the line. But even then, a train takes over 15 hours, a situation caused by occasional slipping of the locomotive.
“Apart from the locomotive and wagons passing on a line covered by grass, which is the primary cause of the train failure to travel smoothly, locomotive defects is another inhibitor,” said Anthony Nyoka, a retired locomotive driver.
Movements of the train, which ferries cement loads from the factory, is done by a privately-owned transporter, East Africa Railway Haulers, who are consignors of the commodity as well as owners of the container wagons.
On average, cement wagon loads from Pongwe reach their respective Mwanza and Kigoma destinations after three weeks, considering that the delays experienced on the link line, also prevail on the central line where locomotives hauling train loads containing various commodities mainly for land-locked Rwanda, Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo, also constantly face failures in transit.
Cement traffic is the only commodity plying on the partially abandoned Tanga line though various others could be transported along the German-built railway.
Among the railways traditional traffic which are now hauled by road are gypsum, cured coffee, timber, copper concentrates and lime.
Analysts say that traffic handled by railways as at present has plummeted down to 20 percent, giving a leeway for road users to haul the rest 80 percent.
In an exclusive interview early this week, a TRL high-ranking official, who pleaded to remain anonymous, said: “There is nothing to be surprised about because everybody knows the situation we (TRL) are in. In fact there are many more serious issues which the government needs to solve if the entity is to regain its lost glory.”
But scores of cement dealers in the city were of the view that the loss of transit time is definitely going to be a trigger of price rises in the Lake Zone regions.
In essence, the main inhibitor to the country’s progress in the giant entity is the acute shortage of locomotives and rolling stock, a problem which experts say may not be easy for the government to solve in view of the massive financial muscle involved.