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Business flourishes as Angola revitalises historic railroad

In the heart of mineral rich southern Africa, mining companies have several options to get their cargo to port – traditionally they would look eastwards to Dar es Salaam, Beira or Durban on the Indian Ocean, a journey that can take up to three weeks. Now though, some are looking west: through Angola to the Atlantic port of Lobito.

A rebuilt railway stretching more than 1300 kilometres has cut the travel time to a matter of days instead of weeks. It is one of the continent’s most historic railways – the Lobito Corridor. 

A shipment of copper has just come in from across the border in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Next to it are empty carriages waiting to be towed back. The traffic is certainly two ways here.

Just over this border in the DRC is the former Katanga Province – now split into four new provinces. It’s rich in minerals, including the lion’s share of the world’s cobalt – commonly found in your mobile phones.

The railway was originally built by Scottish mining engineer and explorer Sir Robert Williams, who discovered huge copper deposits in Katanga province. Under a 99-year concession, the railway was completed in 1929.

The railway reverted back to Angolan ownership in 2001 and a Chinese company rebuilt it at a cost of 2.3 billion Euros. Inaugurated in 2015, it uses General Electric locomotives and Chinese railcars.

The head of the railroad says they plan to extend the line to mineral-rich Zambia as well.

“We currently have two trains every fifteen days, and we are working to have three to four or even five trains a day,” Luis Lopes Teixeira, President of the Benguela Railroad tells Euronews.

“The sectors that could benefit from the Benguela Railway Line are agriculture, industry, construction and the creation of new companies,” he adds.

In the Angolan capital of Luanda, logistics companies are rubbing their hands.

Sergio Chambel, Director of Operations for Early Green, a logistics comapany says, “You can win a lot of time using the Lobito Corridor. And we are very near to the most important mines in the DRC, so it’s just across the border. It’s very very easy.”

A mineral terminal at the city’s port means there’s also potential for larger shipments from Southern Africa.

Jon Schubert an anthropologist from Brunel University in London notes that ordinary Angolans stand to benefit too. “Into the sort of the remote eastern part of the country, where up until now there was no road, and the railway has replaced, allowing people to sort of bring in their agricultural produce, sell it on the train, in neighbouring municipalities, neighbouring provinces.”