Eswatini Railways – Connecting Eswatini to the Future
Eswatini Railways is a railway operator and state-owned enterprise in the Kingdom of Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland. It operates a 300 km railway line importing and exporting commodities, resources and products to and from the Kingdom. We learn how this railway company is connecting Eswatini to the world.
As Eswatini Railways’ CEO, Nixon Dlamini, says, “We have a state-of-the-art dry port, which we operate and use for our main exports, sugar, ethanol and canned fruit. We also import petroleum products because we’re located in an industrial area close to a number of private fuel depots.”
Eswatini’s railway network extends east from the Matsapha Industrial Site to Phuzumoya, where it connects with the South Rail Link to access the South African ports of Durban and Richards Bay. Meanwhile, the Northern link gives Eswatini access to northern countries including Zimbabwe, Zambia, DRC and South Africa. Access to the port of Maputo in Mozambique is by a branch line from Mpaka junction.
With a staff of 374 people, Eswatini Railways moves an average of 7 million tonnes every year. The railway system also has the capacity to handle up to 80 wagon trains, a capability that is useful in Africa particularly on this North-South corridor.
While traditionally Eswatini Railways hasn’t carried passengers, in the early nineties it played a major role in repatriating Mozambican refugees who had sought asylum in Eswatini during their country’s civil war.
Whichever way you look at it, Eswatini Railways has played a crucial role in the story of the Kingdom.
“We provide an important service for the bulk freight sector. We serve countries such as Zambia, the DRC, South Africa,” Dlamini says. “There’s a lot of mining activity and the commodities from those mines, copper, and magnetite, among others, need to be ferried down south to Richards Bay or sometimes Durban. We provide a North-South corridor, with the running stock these mining companies require.”
It’s a role the railway firm has excelled in, but they have never stopped to rest on their laurels.
“We’re constantly improving our operations and we operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so there’s always somebody on-hand to take your call and our turnaround times are short,” Dlamini points out.
This remains essential as Eswatini Railways must remain competitive with the road haulage companies. Although the company is a government-owned entity, it receives no government subventions, and Eswatini Railways is responsible for funding its maintenance and upkeep from its own budget.
“We have various streams of income which include transit traffic. We have also explored other options in terms of diversifying our income. We’ve got a large portfolio of assets so we’ve started renting out warehouses, residential accommodation and so on.”
“This is in line with the revised strategy put in place since Dlamini took on the role of company CEO last year”. The main pillar of that strategy is diversification.
“We’re building a larger inland dry port which is right in the heart of Eswatini at Mpaka, connecting to the KMIII International airport, Richards Bay and beyond,” Dlamini explains. “Diversification is the key for us, as well as exploring private finance partnerships within the private sector. It’s not an easy operation but we’ve remained robust for a long time now.”
Of course, the resources Eswatini Railways relies on aren’t just capital. Another significant challenge the company faces is building and nurturing the talent pool necessary to keep itself operational.
“The skills that are required in running railways are not off-the-shelf,” Dlamini insists. “You need to train people from Day One onwards. So what we would like to strengthen going forward is to attract bright young people and take them through an internship for three years. We would offer them work based training and permanent placement if successful.
“We train people in every aspect of running a railway, from building the tracks to, with our partners, sending recruits to a School of Rail to learn how to drive trains,” Dlamini tells us. “People really grow with the company.”
A New Line
As well as growing its talent pool, speaking with Dlamini it is clear there is another project he is very excited about.
“There is a railway project called the Eswatini Rail Link Project,” he says. “This will be a line connecting Eswatini and South Africa.
The joint inter-railway strategic initiative between Eswatini Railways and Transnet Freight Rail, is currently in the fund acquisition stage, which will shortly be followed by the construction phase.
This project will create a dedicated General Freight Business (GFB) corridor for Transnet whilst providing much-needed additional capacity for Eswatini Railways. The 150km railway link will be constructed between Sidvokodvo in Eswatini, and Lothair in South Africa.
As well as providing much-needed transport infrastructure, the project will create new business opportunities and local jobs. Over 2700 construction related jobs are expected to be created in South Africa and Eswatini during the construction of the link.
When construction is complete, the link will create over an estimated 300 long term jobs in Eswatini and in South Africa.
As with Eswatini Railways ongoing work, this project is also expected to help develop local skills and catalyse economic development.
“This is an exciting project for us, and we’d like as many participants as we possibly can nationally and internationally,” Dlamini says.
The rail link is emblematic of the company’s commitment to the future of Eswatini.
“Our philosophy is we invent our future. Our vision is to have a railway line, one of the best in the region, and we want to take things further even than we have so far,” Dlamini explains. “I believe this rail connection will bring great opportunities and be a platform for embracing the fourth industrial revolution.”