Transport and Communications ministers for Botswana and Namibia are expected to meet in the coming weeks to deliberate over the revised timeframe for the proposed Trans Kalahari Railway (TKR) project, sources close to the project have said.
The meeting comes just months after president Ian Khama and his Namibian counterpart Hifikepunye Pohamba instructed the bureaucrats tasked with the project to revise the time developers are expected to spend before completing the project. According to a source, officials tasked with the project were given six-months to have submitted the revised timeframes. All things being equal, the project is expected to start next year.
TKR is a 1500 kilometre railway line that will link the two countries. A pre-feasibility study for the project has been completed and approved by government. The project is expected to cost around $10 billion. Botswana Guardian understands that during one of their closed-door meetings, the two presidents expressed their dissatisfaction at the time that the construction and completion of the project.
“The officials tasked with the project were looking at starting the project next year and finishing in seven years time,” said the source, who did not want to be named. The two politicians want the project to be completed within five years or less. Their main reasoning is that current economic activities in respective countries urgently need a railway line.
In particular, Botswana, a landlocked country is currently experiencing a ‘coal rush’ from both local and foreign companies who want to mine the resource for the export market. State-owned Morupule Coal Mine (MCM) and African Energy are just some of the local companies that are ready to export to overseas market, but they have been frustrated by lack of infrastructure. Botswana has over 200 billion tonnes of unexploited coal.
Transport hub officials in Botswana were not willing to talk on latest progress about the project on Wednesday. Speaking to Botswana Guardian recently, Botswana’s Ambassador to Namibia explained that the project would act as a major breakthrough for trade between the two southern African countries. Duke Lefhoko said the rail would help even those companies that are ready to exploit overseas markets. When the project was first conceived some few years ago, it was supposed to be private sector led.
“The two governments are now looking at the possibility of investing in the project. Options include not selling the proposed land for TKR to private investors but rather using it as an initial investment,” said a source. To date, 15 companies have shown interest in building the railway line, but the two governments are still to announce winners.
Successful bidders should have been announced in February 2012. CIC Energy (now owned by Jindal Africa), Exxaro Resources and Transnet are some of the companies that replied to Expression of Interest from Botswana and Namibia in 2010.