Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi has officially launched the re-opening of the 262-kilometre-long railway from Cuamba to Lichinga, the two main towns in the northernmost province of Niassa.

The link is a spur line from the northern rail corridor which runs from the port of Nacala to Entre-Lagos on the border with Malawi.

During Mozambique’s War of Destabilization the line could not be used, and even after the end of the war, in 1992, repeated promises to make the line fully operational came to nothing.

Trains ran sporadically on the line, but the state of this railway was so poor that, even in the dry season, a journey between Cuamba and Lichinga could take three days. In 2010 the Northern Development Corridor (CDN), the company to which the entire northern rail system had been leased, suspended rail traffic to Lichinga.

Full rehabilitation of the line began in 2014. The ballast has been completely renewed and the old timber sleepers have been replaced by more durable concrete sleepers. The lightweight rails have also been replaced, and the heavier rails weighing 40 kilogrammes per metre, rather than 30 kg, ensure that trains can run at faster speeds of up to 50 km per hour, without risking derailment.

According to CDN spokesperson Sergio Paunde, the reconstruction of the line cost about 100 million US dollars, paid for by the CDN shareholders.

Paunde said that not only can trains run faster along the line, but it can now bear longer and heavier trains. In the past, trains to Lichinga could contain no more than 10 wagons, but the number will now increase to 24.

The new track can bear weights of 16 tonnes per axle, which gives CDN hope that the line can handle two million tonnes of cargo a year. The line will carry both goods and passenger trains.

Paunde said the first passenger train will leave next Saturday, returning on Sunday. The return fare will be 160 meticais (about 2.1 USD), much cheaper than travelling by road.