Tanzania and Rwanda have decided to review a standard-gauge railway (SGR) line project’s design so that electric, rather than diesel-powered, trains run on the line.

The initial project cost was $2.5-billion.

The two East African neighbors reckon that changing the design to electric will not only reduce travel times for both passengers and cargo but also make the line more efficient and environment friendly.

The line is also expected to significantly reduce transport costs, foster physical integration of transport modes, drive economic growth and improve social services in the subregion.

“We have asked for a review of the feasibility studies to accommodate the electric element,” says Rwanda Minister of State responsible for transport Jean de Dieu Uwihanganye.

The Rwanda Transport Development Agency and the Joint Technical Monitoring Committee are overseeing the feasibility study.

On completion of the study, the two countries plan to form a Project Implementation Unit that will oversee the construction of the 521 km railway line, running from Isaka, in western Tanzania, to Kigali in Rwanda. Isaka is an inland container terminal that has ‘moved’ the port of Dar es Salaam nearer to its customers in landlocked Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Construction on the SGR project is expected to start in October and each country will be responsible for meeting the costs on its territory.

With the new designs, Rwanda and Tanzania are targeting passenger trains speeds of up to 160 km/h and cargo train speeds of up to 120 km/h. With the diesel option, the trains would have run at maximum speeds of 120 km/h for passengers and 80 km/h for cargo.

The SGR line is expected to boost trade between the two neighbors, considering that nearly 80% of Rwanda’s imports and exports pass through Tanzania.

In opting for an electric SGR line, the two countries want to compete with Kenya, which has announced it plans to electrify the diesel-powered Mombasa–Nairobi SGR line.

The Kenya Electricity Transmission Company has already signed a $240- million contract with China Electric Power Equipment & Technology Company for the project, which is expected to take two years.