MAPUTO, The Mozambican government has negotiated a significant reduction in the cost of transporting goods by rail from the northern port of Nacala to Lichinga, the capital of Niassa province, a distance of some 600 kilometres overland.

Previously the operator of the railway line, the Northern Development Corridor (CDN), a private sector-led consortium, charged 2,900 meticais (about 47.5 US dollars) per tonne for goods carried from Nacala to Lichinga, near the border with Malawi.

This was a major disappointment for businesses in Niassa, who claimed this meant it was cheaper to move goods by road from Nacala, despite the poor state of the roads in Niassa.

In fact, in December, CDN had announced that goods trains from Nacala to Lichinga would no longer be operated because there was not enough cargo going in the opposite direction to Nacala.

The branch line to Lichinga leaves the main northern rail corridor at the town of Cuamba. Rehabilitation of the 262-km Cuamba-Lichinga line was completed in late 2016, after years of paralysis because of the degraded state of the line.

Passenger services resumed almost at once, but goods trains were only re-introduced on June 16 last year. Less than six months later, a CDN manager claimed there was not enough traffic back to Nacala to make the service worthwhile.

However, businessmen in Lichinga said the problem was one of cost, and that they would not use the CDN wagons until the tariffs were reduced. As a result, the Cuamba-Lichinga branch line was only being used by passenger trains.

This was not a tolerable situation, since the whole point of rehabilitating the Cuamba-Lichinga railway was to make the circulation of goods to and from Niassa cheaper.

On Tuesday, after the weekly meeting of the Council of Ministers (Cabinet), Government Spokesperson and Deputy Education Minister Armindo Ngunga,said the government had negotiated a reduction in the CDN tariff to 2,150 meticais a tonne, a cut of 26 per cent.

In the discussions between the government and CDN, it was also agreed that mixed passenger and goods trains would now operate regularly between Nacala and Lichinga. Initially, there will only be five goods wagons per train, but the number could increase as demand rises.