New Plan Revamping Life Into Sudan's Railways

New Plan Revamping Life Into Sudan's Railways

In a symbolic move, Atbara revolutionists arrived at the sit-in site, Khartoum, by a train (April 2019)

KHARTOUM (Sudanow) - Sudan has announced a plan to rehabilitate its national land carrier Sudan Railways Corporation in two years.

The Sudan Railway lines, once considered the longest on the African Continent and one of the economy’s major mainstays, has witnessed decades of neglect  that reduced it to almost ruins.

Corporation General Manager Waleed Mahmoud Ahmed said the emergency plan is at a cost  $643 million Dollars. The sums are believed to be funded from several generous grants committed by the World Bank and other international donors to boost the country’s transports, energy, agriculture, education and health.   

For what remained from this year 2021 Engineer Waleed said they have devised what he called “a zero plan” at the cost of $17 million Dollars “until when we reach an equalizing point and the Corporation becomes able to spend from its own resources, away from the country’s general budget.”

He said they have revived a contract they signed earlier with the Chinese company Riyang  to deliver 27 cargo locomotives, noting that they now have 23 U.S–made locomotives that need rehabilitation. The locomotives were put off-rails because of the now-removed U.S economic embargo imposed on Sudan in 1997 that, among other things,  denied the country many needed spare parts.

Photos courtesy (Atbara Railway Museum)

Engineer Waleed said the reoperation in late July of the passenger train linking Khartoum (the Capital) with Port Sudan (on the Red Sea) “has given us the green light to import six passenger units for this Train of the East.” This is in addition to the passenger- cargo train linking Khartoum to Nyala in the far West, he said.

In the meantime, the Corporation has concluded a memo of understanding with the company Maersk Shipping to transport cargo containers from Port Sudan to the free trade zones and customs areas inside the country. Engineer Waleed has added  this step was important in that it boosts commercial transport of exports and imports. He said they were exerting a lot of effort to rehabilitate the rails linking the main railway line with the land ports (inland ports) and that work was 70% completed at Soba land port here and that of Port Sudan.

Magnitude of the Deterioration

Sudan railway network had one day extended over more than 5000 kilometers: from the border with Egypt in the North, to Darfur in the far West, to Port Sudan on the Red Sea Coast down to the City of Wau in today’s South Sudan.

Now and after decades of mismanagement and negligence, most the railway lines have gone out of service, but the new government now says determined to restore that glory of the past, an uphill fight that has started to receive a helping hand from international donors.

Sudan hopes the rehabilitation of the railways would reduce the transport costs of its vast livestock export hitherto expensively

carried out to Port Sudan by commercial private trucks. The hope is also that transport cost of the other exports of cotton, gum Arabic, groundnuts and sesame to the Red Sea harbors could be reduced tangibly when the railways rehabilitation process is completed.

Railway transport of passengers has been reduced to the minimum as a result of that deterioration. The situation is now that, with the little resources they have, the railway men have managed to steer a few trains here and there, not more than ten percent of the actual demand.     

Even the trains that move about cannot speed up more than 40 kilometers an hour because of the aging wooden rail sleepers which were fixed between 1896-1930 in the most.

A merit of the previous regime in this regard was that it in 2017 launched a plant with Chinese assistance to provide concrete sleepers. As a result, much of the very vital Khartoum-Port Sudan railroad has concrete sleepers now. 

What is Needed?

officials hope that in two years time one to two thousand kilometers of railroad can be renewed. It is shocking that a vital railroad linking the Central City of Sinnar with the agricultural hub of Gedarif in the Mideast is now out of service with a lot of its rails missing. Parts of the railroad linking Abuhamamad town with the railway terminal of Kareema in the far North have reportedly been buried in sand dunes due to decades of absence of railway traffic on that line.

In its heyday, the Sudan Railways had also used to link the many river ports with the rest of the country and the Sea Port of Port Sudan in the East.

In a recent revelation a visiting USAID official has said they were mostly interested in the strengthening of the railroad linking the Port Sudan Harbour with Nyala in the far West. They said this railroad is of high importance for the delivery of the USAID relief aid to the neighboring countries of Southern Sudan, Chad and the Central African Republic.

The Glorious Past

The Sudan Railways was almost a state within the state, with vast housing compounds around the country furnished with social clubs for its workers. It also had commercial hotels and catering facilities run on commercial basis.

Its working force was more than 30 thousand. One of the follies of the defunct regime was that it in 1991 dismissed about 3500 skilled workers after a strike called by the railway trade union. Thousands of railway men later went on retirement over the years and were not sufficiently replaced with new intakes due to the service deterioration.

But the Corporation’s new management now says they can cope with the remaining cadres,  new recruits and training.

A retired railway official Sudanow has consulted on how the incoming new trains can be  driven with the bad labor situation said that there is no problem in that because “The steering wheel of the train is the railroad itself!”, and that “with little training drivers can do the job. “  

As a result of this mismanagement, the Corporation has also lost some of its important financial hedges like the beverages and fire brick factories.

The beverages plant had used to produce some of the most favored types of lemonade.

The fire brick plant had used to compete highly with other local manufacturers. Scenes broadcast on the national TV showed that what remained from these two facilities was just rubble. Persons interviewed about this said the adherents of the defunct regime had bought these units as part of a privatization process and then failed to run them, leaving them in shambles.   

The scene in the City of Atbara,  the railway terminal that was once the railway headquarters, is of deserted housing facilities built by the Britons for the senior railways staff. The houses were built along British housing styles. Tens of villas with gardens and other facilities are now uninhabited. 

What The Railways Means For Sudanese

The scene in Port Sudan one day in July when the Khartoum-Port Sudan passenger service was resumed after a stop of tens of years was one of jubilation and fanfare. Tens of thousands rushed to the beautiful railway station to greet the drivers and the passengers on board. It is sure that thousands of the youths who rushed to the station had never seen a passenger train in their lives.    

Before its collapse, the Sudan Railways was always present in the life of Sudanese.

For over a century, it had been linking the different parts of the vast country with cheap transport of passengers and cargo. It helped to bring the country’s diverse population closer to each other.

The Railways also meant travel from one place to another to get education, greener pastures or even espouses!

The Sudanese literature book is full of reference to the railways, with songs either praising the train for bringing a loved one home or blaming it for taking a loved one away. Some of the short stories and novels would also contain episodes taking place aboard the trains or at the train stations.



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