North Western Railway cheers Lumwana Mine

“Anything that will ease our transportation of concentrates and other mineral related products to refineries is welcome including the North Western Railway line planned for North Western Province,” says Lumwana Copper Mine, one of the beneficiaries of the US$1 billion-worth infrastructure.

The construction of the liner, to be jointly developed by  Zambian owned company,  Northwest Rail Co (NWR) and South African logistics company Grindrod Limited is expected to begin before mid this year, according to North Western Railway Chairperson, Enoch Kavindele.

The planned liner, chiefly intended to among other areas, service mining companies in North western province, Lumwana, First Quantum Minerals Limited owned  Kansanshi copper and gold as well as the US$1 billion Trident Kalumbila copper mines, according to the bankable feasibility study,  also serve the Copperbelt area of northern Zambia and the Angolan border.

The road infrastructure in these areas is poor, experts say, and NWR considers rail to be more economical and less damaging to the environment.

NWR secured exclusive rights from the Zambian Government in 2005 and was formally granted the rights in July 2006 to build operate and maintain the proposed railway.

The agreement was later cancelled in 2008 after mining companies could not commit to using the railway line, but was reinstated in June 2011. KPMG’s Infrastructure & Major Projects team has been developing the plan over the past years.

The proposed 1,067mm gauge railway line would be built in two phases.  Work could commence in 2014 on the US$489 million phase one, which would run 290km from the existing railway and smelters at Chingola, Copperbelt Province, to the Kansanshi, Lumwana and Kalumbila mines.

The US$500 million phase two would run to Jimbe on the border with Angola and then link with the Benguela Railway, providing a through route to the port of Lobito which could be used to import oil and support mining in the western Copperbelt.
Earlier, Dave Rennie, the CEO of Grindrod Freight Services, Ports & Rail, elated at the partnership said:  “This investment will enable Grindrod to extract synergies from our existing investments in the North South rail corridor and our port operations in Maputo, Richards Bay and Durban. We also see great potential in creating an Atlantic gateway to central Africa through Lobito and look forward to playing our part in making this a reality with the development of phase two.”

However, Lumwana mine, among other beneficiaries of the facility, being a producer of copper concentrates which is ferried by road to smelters on the Copperbelt, says the development was welcome as it will ease the transport burden it and other two competitors face in reaching the final destination to facilitate the smelting and final processing of its copper ore concentrates into finished copper cathodes for onward export to the global metal market.

“It’s a good idea, our hope is to see that it materializes soon……very soon, we should then more than double up our production of concentrates because then we know there will be cheaper and reliable transport than roads which have been affected and often delay our mining schedules,” added Chishimba, in an interview with Mining news Zambia in Lusaka, June 13.

Kavindele believes the finalization of the agreement with Grindrod Limited, the Johannesburg listed ‘blue chip’ company, is a breakthrough in resolving the transportation problems faced by mining companies-chiefly in north western Zambia.

“It’s a great achievement to have the project finally take off,” said Kavindele.  “The first locomotives will be ready to carry copper concentrate in 18 months,” Kavindele had earlier envisioned.”

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