- Namibian President Sam Nujoma told the press in Luanda, Angola, that the two neighbours were already working on plans for a railroad connection. Earlier Namibian feasibility studies however have shown that an Angolan train connection was not economically viable.
Mr Nujoma made these statements after a meeting with Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos at a short stop-over on Luanda International Airport. The Namibian President was returning from an official visit in Senegal.
According to President Nujoma, Namibia and Angola may soon have a railroad connection. Although few details were given, the Namibian President mentioned connecting the two port towns of Walvis Bay (Namibia) and Namibe (Angola) with a new railroad.
The plans to connect the Namibian railroad network with Angola, however, are not new. The Namibian Ministry of Works, Transport and Communication already in 1999 made a "comprehensive feasibility study" on a large infrastructure project with the aims to extend northern Namibia's railway network, so as to reach the Angolan border.
Today, Walvis Bay is connected to the interior, northern town of Tsumeb by a railway mostly carrying goods. The 1999 study recommended an extension of this line for 248 kilometres from Tsumeb to Ondangwa, following the main Namibian-Angolan road connection.
According to the Namibian Ministry of Trade and Industry, on the Tsumeb-Ondangwa extension, "passenger traffic will at best break even, while the revenue from goods traffic will be sufficient to cover operating expenses as well as part of the capital amortisation. The social benefits will be far reaching."
On a further of 62 kilometres, linking Ondangwa to Oshikango at the Angolan border, the 1999 feasibility study however concluded negatively. The Angolan extension was "not considered economically viable at this stage, but they may become viable due to increased development in their catchment areas and a stabilisation of the political situation in Angola."
With peace in Angola, however, the two governments have enhanced their plans to connect Walvis Bay with Namibe and Lubango in Angola. According to President Nujoma, Namibian and Angolan experts are "already working on the project." He did not elaborate whether a new feasibility study was being made.
The background for the railway plans are believed to be the formal establishment of the so-called "Namibe-Lubango-Oshikango-Walvis Bay Development Corridor" in 1997. This Angolan-Namibian agreement focused on the possibilities of enhancing economic growth in Southern Angola and Northern Namibia through greater interaction and improved infrastructure.
Namibe and Lubango, which are not linked by railway to Angola's capital Luanda, are the economic centres of Angola's impoverished south. The port town of Namibe presently further houses the transhipment port facility closest to Namibia. A connection to Namibe's port facilities could prove one of the few viable resources for Northern Namibia if the project is realised.
Apart from enhanced bilateral cooperation and interaction, there seem to be few additional economic arguments in favour of the planned railroad connection. The line would probably carry few passengers as it would not shorten the existing road connection. Goods between the two countries will be transported cheaper by sea. Local trade however could benefit from the line.
Further, Walvis Bay is enhancing its port facilities to compete better with other ports in the region, such as Namibe. The city's Council only this month approved an application for the development of a new truck port.
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