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Angola’s Benguela rail project is complete, says construction firm

Out-Law News | 19 Aug 2014 | 4:50 pm | 1 min. read

China Railway Construction Corporation has announced the completion of its project to rebuild Angola’s 1,344 kilometre Benguela railway, which the firm said marked the end of one of China's largest overseas construction projects.

The Benguela railway, which connects Angola's Atlantic port of Lobito to the eastern border town of Luau, and further to the rail network of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is expected to start operations later this year.

The railway, when fully operational, will have the capacity to carry 20 million tonnes of cargo and four million passengers annually, China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency said.

Rebuilt at a total cost of around $1.83 billion, Benguela is the second-longest railroad built by China overseas, shorter only than the 1,860-km Tanzania-Zambia Railway built in the 1970s, Xinhua said.

The head of the Angola railway project Liu Feng said the track is also the “longest and fastest” in Angola, with a design speed of 90 kilometres per hour. There are 67 stations along the route.

According to Xinhua, the original Benguela railway was built in accordance with Portuguese standards and trains could only travel at around 30km per hour. Angola was formerly a part of Portuguese West Africa and Portugal began construction of Benguela in 1899.

China has rebuilt the railway under an engineering, procurement and construction contract, with all equipment sourced from China. Around 100,000 Angolans were employed during construction and some 10,000 Angolans have been trained as railway technicians, Xinhua said.

A 2013 ‘Africa gearing up’ report by PwC (6-page 1.31 MB PDF) said that Angola, “thanks to its large oil reserves, has the financial resources to address structural issues and to rebuild the country’s infrastructure” since the end of its 27-year civil war in 2002.

PwC said: “Thanks to an ‘infrastructure for oil’ trade agreement, China has been making significant strides in changing the Angolan infrastructure landscape, via the construction of large railways, roads, and housing projects... In return, Angola became China’s main supplier of oil and even overtook Saudi Arabia in 2010. China will continue to be a key investor in Angola as one of its biggest trading partners.”

In May 2014, China signed a deal with East Africa leaders to develop a multi-billion dollar rail project which Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta said would cut the cost of transporting goods across the region by 60%. According to Reuters, China Road and Bridge Corporation, a subsidiary of China Communications Construction Company, was appointed to construct the initial Kenyan leg of the new line, in a move which Kenya said was a condition of securing Chinese financing.

A World Bank paper published earlier this year (8-page / 768 KB PDF) said the cost of high-speed rail construction in China is one third lower than in other countries thanks to extensive planning, greater standardisation and the development of “innovative and competitive capacity” in the manufacturing process.