KHARTOUM, (Sudanow.info)— Sudanese people have long ceased to prefer the train in moving from one place to another and, despite the deep-rooted affection and intimate memories they cherish towards this means of transport, the number of railway passengers decreased by 45.8% during 2010.
Since its foundation and until the mid-1970s, the Sudan railway was the main means of transport for passengers and for carrying more than 90% of the country’s exports and imports. However, according to figures by the Sudan Railways Authority, the number of train passengers across the country decreased from 87,400 in 2009 to 47,400 passengers in 2010.
The growing reluctance to use this means of transport might be attributed to the long journey the old trains the Authority insists on operating despite the fact that they have become unreliable to complete the trip due to numerous failures on the railroad and the absence services inside the train.
Buses: - powerful Competitors
The large number of passengers by buses, mini-buses and trucks that reached 27 million passengers in 2010 gives an explanation of why the passengers have deserted trains, bearing in mind the high speed, high quality, agreeably appearance and proper services and precise timetable of those vehicles compared with the trains.
The buses and mini-buses are not only the competitors to the train, there is also the river transport, citing a report by the Bank of Sudan for 2011 which shows the river transport passengers dramatically increased in number from only 5,000 in 2009 to 12,922 passengers in 2010, up by 258,340.
Officials of the Sudan Railways Authority, however, say the remarkable decrease in the numbers of the train passengers was due to long periods of suspension of the operations of Khartoum-Wadi Halfa train during 2010 in addition to cutting down the scheduled trips of Al-Salam Wau and Nyala trains.
Africa’s longest railway network:
The Sudan possesses Africa’s longest railway net of 5,000 kilometers with a single width of 3’6”, i.e. 1067 mms. The railway led to the growth of many towns in the Sudan, such as Atbara, which is known as the Railway capital, Musmar, Haya and Jabait in the east, Nyala and Rahad in the west.
The railway served as the main supplier to the outlying towns with potable water and electric power from the gigantic generators installed in the outlying stations, by Khartoum-Halfa, Khartoum-Port Sudan and Khartoum-Nyala trains. All trains used to initiate their journey from Khartoum but later on they started from Khartoum North after inauguration of a new station in 1998.
The Love Train:
Crossing the dusty desert back and forth between Khartoum and Wadi Halfa, the train was a main source of inspiration to Sudanese poets who produced many famous poems, tearfully remembering their lovers who they left behind or earnestly looking forward to seeing them in the town of destination.
Those poems are still being sung by individuals or by renowned singers and musicians on the radio or television.
The Beginning, the Unforeseen End:
Construction of the railway network began in 1897 with the start of the British occupation and most parts of it were completed before 1930. It stretches from Wadi Halfa in the north to Khartoum, passing by the railway capital Atbara wherefrom a branch was stretched to Port Sudan on the Red Sea in the east. The port Sudan-Khartoum railway is the main route of exports-imports transportation movement. There is an alternate strategic railway that links Khartoum to Port Sudan passing through Sinar and Kasala.
The railway of the north has a branch linking Karima with Wadi Halfa. In the west, the railway was extended to Al Obied from Rahad junction wherefrom the route was further extended westwards to Babanousa junction and further westwards to Nyala, in 1059, and southwards to Wau in 1962.
The latest stretches included a 52-km Mug lad-Abu Jabrah route which was constructed in 1995 to convey the oil crude. There is another 10-km link that was stretched in 1996 between Al Obied Refinery and Al Obied railway station. In the same year a stretch was built for moving containers from Soba station to the customs warehouses. In 2000 a 12-km stretch was built between the Khartoum Refinery and Rawyan station and two years later a stretch of 16 kilometers was constructed to link Merowe Dam to Ban station.
The Sudan Railway Authority presently possesses 130 locomotives, 54 maneuvering engines, about 4187 cargo wagons, 910 oil tanks and 167 passenger carriages. The main workshops of the hauling and loading capacities as well as the signals and communication workshops exist in Atbara. The oxygen and plank factories, the foundry and the concrete products are also established in Atbara. There are auxiliary workshops in Khartoum and Port Sudan.
However, the Authority could not reached its target of 300.000 in 2011 as set in its 2007-2011 exigent plan and equally could not raise its hauling capacity from 1.3 tons to 3 tons.
Second Khartoum-Port Sudan Railway:
At present a new railway linking Khartoum with Port Sudan passing by Atbara is being constructed after two full years of negotiations that resulted in agreements with Chinese railway companies for building this second railway. The contract amounts to 1.145 billion US dollars, standing as the biggest ever railway contract between China and Sudan.
According to the Sudan Railway Authority, this new railway is 942 kilometer long with a gauge of 1425 mms. It will be built in three phases: the first one stretches from Port to Haya to be completed in 36 months, the second one between Haya and Atbara to be finished in 48 months and the last stretch of Atbara-Khartoum to be finalized in 60 months.
Sources in the administrative Khartoum office of the Chinese Sichuan company say implementation of the project will take five years. It will be supervised by the German Dornier Company, the sources added.
The new railway is envisaged to drastically raise the capacity of the Sudan railway network, develop the economy and external trade, reinforce economic cooperation between the Sudan and China and increase the Chinese exports of building materials, machinery and electronic systems, as put by the Chinese company sources here.
Also underway is the construction of a railway parallel to Khartoum-Masallumiyah-Sinar rail-line which is 440-kilometer long and a 1425-mms gauge. Financed by the Indian government, this line will be completed in three years’ time, the Authority said.
A different Future:
The Railways which used to carry the Sudanese only within the Sudan, may open up new horizons, take the passengers to new towns and countries and mingle with other people to share new experiences and exchange ideas. This can be achieved upon implementation of an Arab League project of linking the Arab countries with railways according to a decision by the Arab League economic summit of 2009 aimed at removing obstacles of transport and trade between the Arab states.
The Arab League Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Affairs, Mohamed al-Twaigry,, in a statement he made after the recent meeting of the Arab ministers of transport, said points of contact for 15 Arab states have been fixed to facilitate the mission of the Arab Economic and Social Development Fund for conducting a study of this project the implementation of which will start in the near future by linking the Sudan with Egypt by a railway estimated to cost 515 million euro.
Representative of the Arab League member states reviewed in Cairo last Tuesday the study of connecting the Arab countries with railways. Present at the meeting were representatives of the Arab League Economic and Social Development Fund, the official of the Arab League Economic Administration and the consultancy in charge of the study.
The Secretary-General of the Arab Railways Union, Murhaf Sabouny, said in a statement that the railway linkage is being carried out by a specialized Italian-Jordanian consultants firm and is financed by the Arab Economic and Social Development Fund and is expected to be completed by the middle of next year.
Sabouny said the German-Jordanian firm presented the recent Cairo meeting with a report on the progress of the study.