Maputo — The management of Mozambique's publicly-owned ports and rail company, CFM, on Tuesday recognised that the Sena railway line from the western province of Tete to the port of Beira will not be ready in time to meet the schedules of coal mining companies.
Two companies, Vale of Brazil and Riversdale of Australia, are building gigantic open cast coal mines in Moatize district, near the terminus of the Sena line. The export of coal down the railway should begin in the third quarter of this year - but the Indian consortium RICON, in charge of the complete reconstruction of the line, has failed to deliver it in a usable condition.RICON should have completed the job two years ago, but kept requesting extensions. When RICON announced that the work was finally concluded at the end of January, CFM chairperson Rosario Mualeia took reporters to inspect the line - and found that "not a single kilometre" was in decent condition.
The government has set in motion the cancellation of the contract with RICON and the termination of its lease on the Beira rail system. Responsibility for completing the Sena line thus falls onto the shoulders of CFM.Mualeia told reporters on Tuesday that everything would be done to minimize the delays in coal exports. "Because of the delays in finishing work on the line, there will be delays in the start of coal exports", he said. "But this delay may not be very long".
RICON's delays mean that the work on the Sena line is 15 months behind schedule, but Mualeia insisted that this would not be allowed to make the transport of coal non-viable. What CFM wanted, he insisted, was a railway that meets the needs of its clients, and provides the required quality and safety.
"We're not going to carry the coal, with trains derailing every other day", said Mualeia. "We want the line to be of good quality. We want the mistakes we noted to be corrected, so that in the coming years the line is effective and efficient, and doesn't bring us derailments and losses because it has been leased out without quality".
Mualeia revealed that negotiations are still under way between CFM and RICON. CFM remains firm in wanting to end the contract with RICON, but subsequent steps will depend on the Indian consortium.
"There are various paths that could be followed", said Mualeia. "We could engage in a dispute that takes us to the courts, or we could have negotiations that lead to a peaceful and friendly conclusion. But everything depends on how open our partner (RICON) is. We are waiting to hear from them".
There are reports that the consortium will accept the termination of the contract, but is demanding that it be replaced by another Indian company.
Mualeia does not reject this out of hand. "If they find a partner with the financial capacity to make the necessary investment, that may be a viable solution", he said. "Our question is purely technical, and not political".
The government notified RICON of its intention to terminate the contract on 24 December. Under the terms of the contract itself, this notification only becomes effective if RICON is unable to deliver the job with acceptable quality within a further three month period - i.e. by 24 March. CFM does not believe that RICON can possibly meet that deadline.
When Mualeia inspected the entire Sena line on 7-8 February, he declared "My greatest unhappiness is that I couldn't see a single kilometre, out of the 554 kilometres of the line, which can meet the standards laid down in the contract".The most serious defect concerned the ballast. Track ballast consists of the stone on which the tracks and sleepers are laid. It holds the tracks in place, and facilitates drainage - of crucial importance during the Mozambican rainy season.Poor and uneven ballast, as seen on Mualeia's visit, means that rails fall out of alignment, thus greatly increasing the risk of derailments.
Mualeia also pointed to the lack of drainage channels. Inadequate ballast plus no drainage channels means that storm waters will stay on the line. If the line is seriously flooded, the ballast will be contaminated with soil, and might be washed away.
The contract also envisaged rehabilitating all 17 stations along the Sena line. But Ricon has only managed to complete work on two of them. Work on others has gone at a snail's pace. Thus the construction of a new station building at Caia began last August - but as of early February had not proceeded beyond the foundations.