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Economy - Development

Libyan railway construction on track

afrol News, 15 March - Russian and Chinese construction companies are advancing in their works to build a North African railway corridor, connecting Tunisia and Egypt along the large coast of Libya.

Russian Railways, which in April 2008 won a contract to construct the 550 kilometre high-speed rail line on the Sirt - Benghazi route, is reporting progresses.

"So far, around 14,000 metres of track have been laid, and 110 track switches have been delivered, of which 51 have been installed," spokeswoman Svetlana Bobrova says in a statement today. "Currently, 438 workers are engaged in the construction work, using 375 items of track, construction, and auto machinery," Ms Bobrova adds.

This first major progress report from Russian Railways comes as the state company's President Vladimir Yakunin today travelled to construction zones outside Benghazi. Mr Yakunin reports from Libya that works on the Sirt – Benghazi route, to run along the Mediterranean coast and link major Libyan cities, are going according to schedule.

Construction of the standard gauge line is expected to take four years, ending in 2012. Costs are estimated to € 2.2 billion, with the work to be undertaken by Russian specialists working with local companies. Train speed on the 550 kilometre line will at first, using diesel locomotives, be up to 160 km/h, and in the second stage, after track electrification, up to 250 km/h.

The Russians however only are constructing a part of the large Libyan railway scheme. The Libyan government has awarded contracts for the entire east-west coastal line - from the Tunisian border, via Tripoli, Sirt and Banghazi to the Egyptian border - and from the port in Sirt 800 kilometres to iron ore deposits in the interior, later even planning to cross the Sahara into Niger.

The other parts of the North African railway corridor and the route to the interior have been awarded the China Railway Construction Corp. While the Russians have issued regular updates on their works, progress on the Chinese parts of the constructions is largely unknown.

Libyan state news agency 'Jana' in November 2008 however confirmed that Chinese works on the 453 kilometre railway line to link the capital Tripoli with Sirt had started. Earlier in 2008, the start-up of the interior railway was also confirmed. The works have been large enough to be tracked on satellite images.

Libya has not had a functional railway network since independence. Some lines were built by the Italian colonialists and further were built during World War II to facilitate transports of troops, but most were demolished after the war. Since 1965, no regular trains have gone in Libya.

Neighbour countries nevertheless have railway connections going close to the Libyan border. These are later to be connected to the new Libyan high-speed lines. However, no feasibility or economic sustainability studies have been presented for the North African corridor and the Libyan coast is sparsely populated.

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