Talks aimed at exploring the possibilities of re-opening the strategic Benguela Railway have taken place recently.
Talks aimed at exploring the possibilities of re-opening the strategic Benguela Railway have taken place recently. The line runs through Angola, linking the landlocked copper mining areas of Zambia and Zaire with the Atlantic coast. After the discussions between officials from Zambia and Zaire, the British company which has a controlling share in the railway was asked to investigate technical and operational problems.
SYNOPSIS: The line has been closed for over two-and-a-half years, since the start of the Angolan civil war. During the war many bridges and sections of truck were destroyed. Now economic pressures appear to have forced Angola's neighbours Zambia and Zaire into talks to get it re-opened.
Before the start of the war both countries depended heavily on the line, both for imports and exports. it runs across southern Angola for 1,250 miles (2,000 Kilometres) to the port of Lobito. Before it closed the railway carried half of Zambia's copper exports and one quarter of Zaire's.
However, despite the closure of the line, at first Zambia and Zaire were able to cope with increased transport costs and delays because of a dramatic rise in the price of copper, their principal money earner.
But when the industrialised word went into recession at the end of 1974 the price of copper slumped from a record 3,000 US dollars a tonne to around 1,000 dollars. As a result operating margins of companies exporting the metal were cut drastically and transport costs became more important. In 1976 one Zairian company stockpiled 360,000 tonnes because it wasn't profitable to move it.
Because of this it now appears that the two countries, despite political differences with Angola, are anxious to get the line re-opened to ease their transport problems.