Sudan’s railway network was once one of the largest in Africa, stretching 5000km from the Egyptian border to Darfur in the west, Port Sudan on the Red Sea coast and Wau in what is now South Sudan. However, years of neglect and mismanagement has resulted in severe decline to the extent that only 60 trains are now left in operation which can travel at no more than 40km/h due to the condition of the track.
“The entire railway network is broken down,” head of the railway Mr Mckawi Awad Mckawi told Reuters. “We have no more passenger trains while the capacity of freight trains is only enough to meet 10% of the transportation needs of Sudan.”
The Sudanese government is keen to boost export of livestock as well as cotton and gum arabic – an edible gum material used in soft drinks and drugs – to aid the country’s ailing economy which is suffering from the loss of much of its oil revenues since the split with South Sudan. It considers rebuilding the railway as the most effective way of doing this and is actively working with the Chinese, the country’s biggest aid donor, as well as Korea.
“We need the railway,” says transport minister Ahmed Babiker Nahar. “Road traffic is expensive. The railway is cheaper, faster, safer and has a bigger capacity. Livestock arrives in better condition by rail.”
Nahar says China is supplying Sudan with 100 passenger coaches, 100 freight wagons, and 50 tank wagons, while Korea has supplied 13 locomotives.
Track rehabilitation work is also underway after Shanghai Hui Bo Investment Co (SHIC) opened a sleeper production plant in Khartoum which is now reportedly producing 1200 sleepers a day.
SRC aims to renew 1000-2000km of track in the next two years, and has already reintroduced a daily freight train from Khartoum to Atbara, which is 300km north of the capital, and from the line to Port Sudan is now being rebuilt. There are also plans to restart services on the line from Khartoum to Nyala in Darfur via North Kordofan state, the main gum arabic production site, and to extend the line from Nyala into Chad. The rehabilitated railway could also be used to transport oil from South Sudan if the country’s can reach an agreement.