Malawi Railways

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Malawian rail station near the border to Mozambique, 1984 Malawi Rail.jpg
Malawian rail station near the border to Mozambique, 1984
Malawi Railways diesel railcar, 1984 Malawi Railways diesel railcar.JPG
Malawi Railways diesel railcar, 1984

Malawi Railways was a government corporation that ran the national rail network of Malawi, Africa, until privatisation in 1999. With effect from 1 December 1999, the Central East African Railways consortium led by Railroad Development Corporation won the right to operate the network. This was the first rail privatisation in Africa which did not involve a parastatal operator. [1]



Upon achieving independence in 1964, Malawi, which had previously been the British protectorate of Nyasaland, inherited a network of three railways. They were the Shire Highlands Railway from Salima, on Lake Malawi, via Blantyre to Port Herald (now Nsanje) on the Shire River; the Central African Railway from Port Herald to Vila Fontes (now Caia), in Portuguese Mozambique; and the Trans-Zambezia Railway, from Vila Fontes to Beira, also in Portuguese Mozambique. The network was run as a single, integrated Malawian system, even though the Trans-Zambezia Railway was located entirely on foreign territory. [2]

All of these lines were narrow gauge and single track, and the Shire Highlands Railway in particular had sharp curves and steep gradients, so the system was inadequate for heavy train loads. Maintenance costs were high and freight volumes were low, so freight rates were up to three times those of Rhodesian and East African lines. [3] [4] Although costly and inefficient, the rail link to Beira remained a main bulk transport link until 1979 when it was destroyed by RENAMO forces in the civil war. By then, Malawi had its second rail link to the Mozambique port of Nacala, which is its principal route for imports and exports today. [5]

From 1974 to 1979, Malawi worked with the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) sponsored to build 110 kilometres (70 mi) of new track from Salima to Lilongwe though the Malawi-Canada Railway Project. [6]

Present day overview

The 797 km (495 mi) 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) gauge line extends from the Zambian border at Mchinji in the west via Lilongwe to Blantyre and Makhanga in the south. At Nkaya Junction it links with the Nacala line going east via Nayuchi to Mozambique's deepwater port at Nacala on the Indian Ocean. The link south from Makhanga to Mozambique's Beira corridor has been closed since the Mozambique Civil War, with plans for reconstruction not yet realised.

An extension from Mchinji to Chipata in Zambia opened in 2010, [7] and there is a proposal to eventually link up from there with the TAZARA railway at Mpika. [8]

Freight traffic is predominantly exports through Nacala, including sugar, tobacco, pigeon peas and tea. Import traffic consists of fertiliser, fuel, containerised consumer goods and food products including vegetable oil and grain. A government subsidised passenger rail service operates twice weekly from Blantyre to the border with Mozambique at Nayuchi. [1]

The Rivirivi Bridge was damaged by Cyclone Delfina in January 2003 and reopened in 2005. [9]

Nacala Port and Railway was concessioned to the same CEAR consortium in January 2005. [10]

In July 2006, the Republic of China (Taiwan) sent 4 R20 series (EMD G12) diesel electric locomotives R56, R57, R58 and R59 to Malawi Railways. Two of them are used as shunters and the other two have never been used.

See also

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Transport in Malawi

Transportation in Malawi is poorly developed. The country of almost 14 million has 39 airports, 6 with paved runways and 33 with unpaved runways. It has 797 kilometres of railways, all narrow-gauge and about 45 percent of its roads are paved. Though it is landlocked, Malawi also has 700 km (435 mi) of waterways on Lake Malawi and along the Shire River.

Transport in Mozambique

Modes of transport in Mozambique include rail, road, water, and air. There are rail links serving principal cities and connecting the country with Malawi, Zimbabwe and South Africa. There are over 30,000km of roads, but much of the network is unpaved.

Blantyre Place in Southern Region, Malawi

Blantyre is Malawi's centre of finance and commerce, and its second largest city, with an enumerated 800,264 inhabitants as of 2018. It is sometimes referred to as the commercial and industrial capital of Malawi as opposed to the political capital, Lilongwe. It is the capital of the country's Southern Region as well as the Blantyre District.

Air Malawi Limited was the state-owned national airline of Malawi, based in Blantyre, which operated regional passenger services. Because of its financial situation, the airline was placed in voluntary liquidation, the Malawi Government announced in November 2012, and flights have been suspended since February 2013.

Rail transport in Zambia is primarily provided by two systems:

Dona Ana Bridge Railway bridge in Mozambique spanning the Zambezi

The Dona Ana Bridge spans the lower Zambezi River between the towns of Vila de Sena and Mutarara in Mozambique, effectively linking the two halves of the country. It was originally constructed as a railway bridge to link Malawi and the Moatize coal fields to the port of Beira.

Mozambique Ports and Railways

Portos e Caminhos de Ferro de Moçambique is a state-owned company that oversees the railway system of Mozambique and its connected ports.

Central East African Railways is a consortium formed in 1999, led by the Railroad Development Corporation, which won the right to operate the Malawi Railways network. The company was sold in September 2008 to INSITEC, an investment group based in Mozambique.

Railway stations in Mozambique include:

A2 road (Zimbabwe) Road in Zimbabwe

The A2 Highway is a primary road in Zimbabwe running from Harare to Nyamapanda at the border with Mozambique. The Mozambican side border post is called Cochemane. This is a busy entry point used by people travelling by road between South Africa, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. It starts at intersection with Samora Machel Avenue; however Enterprise Road itself begins from the T-junction with Robert Mugabe Avenue, opposite the market in Eastlea, east of Simon Muzenda Street Road Port; a bus terminus for inter-regional buses.

Malawi Railways is the national rail network in Malawi, run by a government corporation until privatisation in 1999. As of 1 December 1999 the Central East African Railways, a consortium led by Railroad Development Corporation, won the right to operate the network.

The Port of Nacala, also called the Nacala port complex, is a Mozambican port located in the cities of Nacala and Nacala-a-Velha. Is the deepest port in Southern Africa. The natural deep harbour serves landlocked Malawi with a 931-kilometre (578 mi) railway.

History of rail transport in Mozambique

The history of rail transport in Mozambique began in the latter years of the nineteenth century.

History of rail transport in Zambia

The history of rail transport in Zambia began at the start of the twentieth century.

Malawi–Mozambique relations Bilateral relations

Malawi–Mozambique relations refers to the current and historical relationship between the countries of Malawi and Mozambique. As Malawi shares a large border with Mozambique, much of the substance of their foreign relations pertain to the border separating the two nations. Both of the sovereign states have amicably agreed that lacustrine borders on Lake Malawi remain the largest priority between the two countries, as the exploitation of natural resources within the waters of Lake Malawi remain an issue the two countries continue to resolve. The moment considered an act of generosity and sympathy within the two countries relations is when, during the Mozambique Civil War, Malawi housed over one million Mozambican refugees between 1985 and 1995. After this gesture, Malawian relations with Mozambique crumbled under the tenure of Bingu wa Mutharika, notoriously reaching a nadir when Malawian police launched a raid into Mozambique's territory.

History of rail transport in Malawi

The history of rail transport in Malawi began shortly after the turn of the twentieth century.

Shire Highlands Railway Company

The Shire Highlands Railway Company Ltd was a private railway company in colonial Nyasaland, incorporated in 1895 with the intention of constructing a railway from Blantyre to the effective head of navigation of the Shire River. After problems with routing and finance, a South African 3 ft 6 in gauge railway was constructed between 1903 and 1907, and extended in 1908 to a Nsanje, a distance of 113 miles (182 km) as water levels in the Shire River fell.

Nacala railway

Nacala railway, also known as Northern Corridor railway and Nacala Corridor railway, is a railway line that operates in northern Mozambique on a 912 kilometres (567 mi) line that runs west from the port city of Nacala, crossing the central region of Malawi, connecting with the coal belt of Moatize, in northwest Mozambique. It is connected to the Dona Ana-Moatize railway branch and the Sena railway (Chipata-Lilongwe-Blantyre-Nhamayabue-Dondo). It also has a 262 kilometres (163 mi) branch line from Cuamba to Lichinga.

Sena railway

Sena railway, also called Shire Highlands railway, Dondo-Malawi railway and North-South Malawi railway, is a railway that connects Dondo, Mozambique, to Chipata, in Zambia. It is c. 1000 km long, in a 1067 mm gauge.

Mwami, is a town in the Eastern Province of Zambia. The town lies at the international border with Malawi, adjacent to the Malawian city of Mchinji.



  1. 1 2 Bradley J Knapp and Henry Posner III (June 2004). "A luta continua!". Railway Gazette International . Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 3 September 2007.
  2. Hollingsworth 1980.
  3. UK Colonial Office, An Economic Survey of the Colonial Territories, 1951 (London, HMSO, 1952), pp. 45–6.
  4. A. MacGregor-Hutcheson (1969). New Developments in Malawi's Rail and Lake Services, The Society of Malawi Journal, Vol. 22, No. 1, pp. 32–4.
  5. J McCraken, (2012). A History of Malawi, 1859-1966 Woodbridge, James Currey pp. 173–6. ISBN   978-1-84701-050-6.
  6. Kadyampakeni, James "Malawi's transportation problems", Africa Insight, vol 17, no 1, 1987 pp-52-57 :
  7. "Railway Gazette: News in Brief". Archived from the original on 1 October 2010. Retrieved 26 September 2010.
  8. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 6 June 2010. Retrieved 3 November 2010.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. "Intelligence". Railway Gazette International . January 2005. Archived from the original on 23 October 2007. Retrieved 3 September 2007.
  10. "Central East African Railways". Railroad Development Corporation . Retrieved 3 September 2007.


  • Hollingsworth, J B (1980). Atlas of the World's Railways. Adelaide: Rigby. pp. 229–230. ISBN   0727003054.