New 10m tonne coal railway construction set for 2021

Botswana Rail goods
Botswana Rail goods

Botswana Railways has announced its intention to start construction of the long awaited Mmamabula-Lephalale line in the second half of 2021, a project that is expected to directly create 3,000 jobs.

The long-awaited railway line is expected to open up a higher capacity, heavy-duty coal export line to South Africa, an option that in previous years has stymied several projects on the eastern coalfields. With about 60 kilometres dividing Mmamabula and Lephalale in South Africa’s Limpopo Province, the railway line will be shorter than the current link and will provide a gateway to the sea through both Richards Bay and Mozambique. Exploitation of Botswana’s estimated 200 billion tonnes of coal has largely been limited by the lack of a viable coal export route, forcing the few developers currently active to focus on power generation and local sales.

At present, only Morupule Coal Mine is utilising the existing rail capacity, while another producer, Minergy expects to send out its first coal within weeks from its Masama Coal Mine.

Botswana Railways CEO, Leonard Makwinja said the planned railway would present ‘huge’ opportunities for local coal development.

“The Mmamabula- Lephalale railway line will open up mining of coal in the Mmamabula coal field,” Makwinja said in a written response to BusinessWeek enquiries. “Within two years this alone will provide more than 3,000 direct jobs and many more during the construction plus secondary jobs.  “Revenue from coal mining at the rate of 10 million tonnes per year will improve regional trade from South Africa as it would provide the shortest route. “Construction of Mmamabula- Lephalale is due in the second half of 2021.” The Mmamabula-Lephalale railway, which includes a four kilometre bridge over the Limpopo River, is part of three high priority projects Botswana is hoping China funds under the Forum on China and Africa Cooperation (FOCAC). During a groundbreaking mission led by President Mokgweetsi Masisi last year, Botswana also submitted the Mosetse-Kazungula railway line for possible FOCAC funding as well as some major road projects. Transport and Communications minister, Dorcas Makgato is currently in Beijing where she is expected to advance the potential deal. Makwinja told BusinessWeek the costs of both railway lines as well as other details such as designs, were being finalised. “The feasibility studies will prove viability as well as the indicative total cost,” he said.

“Botswana Railways will (soon) go for tender for a final detailed design and firm on the total cost.  “This will be followed up by a tender for construction companies after confirmation of availability of funds.” The Mosetse-Kazungula line, the CEO said, is set for construction beginning in early 2022. A bankable feasibility study for both railway lines is expected to start in May.

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