Botswana Railways has issued a tender for the contract to undertake a feasibility study into the construction of a new heavy-haul coal line.
The route would run from Mmamabula in Botswana, at the heart of the Botswanan coal fields, to Lephalale in South Africa, where it would connect with the emerging rail corridor from the Waterberg Basin in Limpopo Province in the far north of South Africa to the east coast ports. The contract also encompasses a feasibility study into a separate rail line, from Kazungula in Zambia to Mosetse in Botswana.
Taken together, the two projects would enable the export of copper and other mining commodities from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zambia to South African and southern Mozambican ports. The two rail links must handle both dry bulk and container traffic.
Botswana Railways closed the tender for contracts to sell or lease locomotives and wagons for coal carrying operations in mid-March. Landlocked Botswana currently produces relatively little coal and its estimated coal reserves of 212 Bt have not been developed because of the absence of an export route.
As previously reported, Botswana Railways is in talks with South African rail parastatal Transnet to build a 120 km coal rail link between the two countries, to allow Botswanan coal to be exported from the ports of Richards Bay and Maputo. Construction costs are estimated at US$300M and transport capacity of up to 80 Mtpa is envisaged.
Transnet chairman Popo Molefe said: “We will ensure that the South African railway system is capacitated to support both the unlocking of Waterberg and Botswana coal reserves.”
It is possible that Botswana could opt to develop two coal export lines – to Walvis Bay and Richards Bay – at the same time but this seems unlikely. The Botswana-South Africa link has been mooted for more than a decade but has become more economically attractive since Transnet began developing the Lephalale line, which will cover most of the distance between Botswana and Richards Bay.
Once the two governments sign a Memorandum of Understanding on the project, they will set up a joint steering committee to drive its development, including the upgrade of electrical infrastructure on the entire length of the line.