The Zambia Chamber of Mines has backed calls not to enforce the Statutory Instrument that compels mines and other businesses to transport 30 per cent of their bulk cargo by rail until Zambia Railways has beefed up its capacity.

During the Rail Africa 2018 conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, on June 13, Zambia Railways board chairman, Lubinda Linyama, announced that Statutory Instrument (SI) No. 7 of 2018 on rail transportation, which compels mines and other businesses to transport 30 per cent of their bulk and heavy cargo by rail from road, will not be enforced 100 per cent until the railway acquires the capacity to meet the needs of the market.

He said Zambia Railways needed 40 new locomotives and 3 100 wagons to make it possible.

But Ministry of Transport Brian Mushimba’s had insisted that the SI would be implemented regardless of the concerns raised by the private sector after signing it in January this year.

Reacting to the latest development, however, Zambia Chamber of Mines president, Nathan Chishimba, welcomed the move for the national railway to focus more on beefing up capacity and enhancing the already-existing railway infrastructure.

“My reaction is we are pleased as a mining sector. As a Chamber, all we are saying is that, we are prepared to work with the government. We’ve had some productive meetings with Ministry officials, and the Minister himself. I think we have explained our position in a manner that doesn’t push back; we are trying to work with the government to see how we can accelerate this upgrade in the efficiency of the railway system in Zambia,” Chishimba said in an interview.

“Our line has been that we are in support of the SI, particularly with the fact that there is a lot of the cargo coming through the roads now, transiting all the way to Congo [DRC]. So, I think government is justified in being concerned about these heavy pieces of equipment transiting through the entire breadth of the country. The whole point is that, if rail is made as efficient as the chairman [Linyama] is suggesting; if all little things fall in line, it will take away so much headache from the current road arrangements,” Chishimba added.

He however observed that there was need to rehabilitated the railway links between some mining towns.

“Having said that, there’s two other things that need to be sorted out. One is that; we need to rehabilitate and revive the little links like the Kitwe to Kalulushi links; Solwezi link into the North-Western Province and so on, so that the entire sector is complete. But even without those two links, we think there is something we can do to work with the government and make sure they achieve their role of making the rail sector more viable.”

He also added that mining companies in the North-Western Province required further attention regarding their cost of operations.

“The other issue that, particularly the mines from North-Western Province has decried is that, the handling of concentrates, because some of the copper coming out of there is coming in concentrate form; it is very important that all the associated costs and practicalities are looked at in total so that there is a timeframe given for appropriate facilities to come in place and handle that because concentrate is in powder form,” he explained.

Chishimba, who is also Barrick Lumwana Mines’s executive director, stressed that the mining industry stood ready to welcome further talks with government on how the SI could work more effectively.

“As a chamber, we stand ready, willing and able to meet the government at any time they feel our input will be required. The Ministry [of Transport] is at liberty to invite us if they think it will add any further value to the whole exercise,” said Chishimba, adding that the Ministry has so far been receptive to their chamber’s proposals for reform.