When the Portuguese completed the construction of the Benguela Railway more than 85 years ago, it stretched 1,350 kilometers across 67 stations and connected the interior in far eastern Angola to the port of Lobito on Angola’s Atlantic coast. Since the Angolan Revolution in 1973, the last full year in which the railway operated, and the subsequent civil war, the entire line was virtually impassable. However, with the technical and financial assistance of the Chinese government, the Benguela Railway reopened in August 2014. The railway will make significant strides in shortening the distance that goods from Zimbabwe, Zambia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) will travel to make it to the sea port.
The reopened railway could mean huge business for Angola because the railway will open a direct, shorter line for the export of copper and other minerals from the virtually land-locked DRC. Last year, the DRC mined the most cobalt in the world and was the world’s eighth largest producer of copper. The majority of this mined copper is currently transported about 3,500 kilometers by road from Katanga to South Africa’s port city of Durban or east to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on the Indian Ocean coast. Using the railway to transport these and other mined materials will significantly reduce the cost of this export, a likely immediate use and benefit of the railway. One long-term hope is that reopening the railway will encourage investment in the agricultural areas of eastern Angola.
The revamping of the Benguela Railway has also led to upgrades and improvements to the Port of Lobito. With the help of the China Harbour Engineering Company, the Port of Lobito now has new terminals for containers, ore, and fuel. Once the railway is brought to full capacity, the Port of Lobito’s capacity is expected to grow from 3.7 million tons of cargo to 4.1 million tons.