Strides in rail rehabilitation need to be applauded

Reading Time: 3 minutes

A friend mine, a locomotive driver, called me one morning last month. He and several of his colleagues were on a train, testing the recently restored railway section between Balaka and Salima. This section, like many others in the country, had descended into a deplorable state of neglect and disrepair.

When I was a boy, living at Nkhoma Mission, the entire mission was once gripped with shock and grief after receiving news of the tragic loss of two missionaries, Mr. and Mrs. Du Toit. A grand funeral was held for them and they were interred at the mission cemetery. The couple had travelled to Mulanje and as they travelled back into Blantyre via Midima Road, their vehicle was crushed – nay pulverized – by a speeding train at the level crossing just after Bangwe. This crossing point lies on the south-bound railway line from Limbe, which has remained inactive for many years. Today motorists pass the level crossing without pausing to check if a train is approaching.

Luchenza was a busy train centre then, as were many other towns along the railway – Golomoti, Sharpe Vale, Bangula and the list, as they say, is endless.

In 1989, my newly wedded wife and I planned to take a train ride from Limbe to Luchenza to admire the countryside. We were informed that we had to wait for a train coming from Mchinji, which would continue to Nsanje after offloading some of its cargo at Limbe. Believing this would take forever, we decided to take a bus instead. The salient point is that trains in those days could travel from Mchinji to Nsanje, and then onward into Mozambique.

When I visited Bangula about ten years ago, I had to hold my tears back at the sight of vendors selling their wares over the railway line with their benches between the two rails. Visiting Golomoti in Dedza a few months later, I noticed with shock that the railway line there had also been turned into a worthless relic of the past.  

This nation had a grand vision for movement of freight; the railway was primarily designed for that. Major companies like Portland Cement, Packaging Industries (now Nampack), Admarc, and others, had rail sidings extending into their premises to facilitate the transportation of finished goods and delivery of raw materials by trains. Chipoka Port was conceived as a pivotal hub for the transfer of goods between trains and water vessels, ensuring that the entire length of the country was efficiently served in terms of movement of goods.

Sadly, the railway network has crumbled hopelessly since 1994. It is in a very sorry state – nay has been, until now. The friend who called me last month brought hope that train services between Balaka and Salima would resume. There is further news to the effect that by this month (June) train services between Blantyre and Lilongwe will be re-instated. Government has shown unprecedented commitment to the rehabilitation of the dilapidated sections of the railway line throughout the country. Works on the line between Bangula and Marka are ongoing. Our colleagues in Mozambique have already rehabilitated the line from Marka to the port of Beira. When the Chiromo bridge is reconstructed, which I am sure is in the next phase of the project, and the damaged portions between Chiromo and Limbe repaired, the rail connection between Blantyre and Beira will be restored.

Two or three generations ago, people could travel extensively in the Southern African region by rail. An uncle of mine travelled to Salisbury by train in the 1950s. Rail used to be a popular mode of transport in those days. When Scottish born Colin Cameron, the last Briton to serve Banda’s in cabinet, first came to this country he did not fly. Instead, he came by ship to Beira then connected to Blantyre by train.

If the said Government commitment is sustained, this country’s former glory in the movement of freight and passengers, will be restored. The benefits to be had from this will be numerous and varied, but perhaps the most significant of these will be the resultant reduction in transportation costs. This, in turn, will likely lower the cost of consumer goods, thereby helping to mitigate the inflation that currently plagues our economy.  

Some citizens have been praising the introduction of electric trains in Tanzania, with an eagerness that seemed to suggest something like “Shame on you Malawi: look how advanced your neighbouring country has become!” Searching within, one finds that we have begun to take initial steps in that direction, as the rehabilitation of the railway line must precede the introduction of electric trains.

Leave a Reply

Scroll to Top
Scroll to Top
Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap