MINISTER of Transport and Logistics Frank Tayali says over a billion dollars is needed to make the railway sector viable in Zambia.

In an interview, Wednesday, Tayali said the railway system still had the potential to play its economic role in revamping Zambia’s economy.

“We acknowledge that the track that the company is currently operating on is close to 120 years old and so, therefore, it has outrun its lifespan. What we are looking to do is really to bring in the sort of investment which could come close to overhauling their entire track and infrastructure related to the railway companies such as the locomotives as well as the wagons. So it’s a lot of money that would be required to achieve that. North of a billion dollars means slightly upwards of a billion dollars. We are talking a billion to a billion point three somewhere thereabout. We need that much money to bring the railway sector to viable levels and allow it to play its economic role in revamping Zambia’s economy,” he said.

“I do know that it is slightly north of a billion dollars. Now obviously we are also cautious, looking at our debt levels not to subject Zambia and Zambians to yet more of such debt. So we need to structure something where we can bring in the private sector that can look at the viability, and there is serious viability of the rail sector in Zambia, particularly with our plans to revamp in terms of the whole large of bulk cargo such as our plans to boost production. We would need a railway sector that is viable to be able to meet that particular goal to move tonnages that we envisage Zambia could reach in the next 10 years.”

Tayali said despite its current state, a lot of customers were willing to use the railway sector, hence the need for it to be revamped.

“What we will be talking about is the current capacity. I think statistically what we see is the potential that even in its current state, you see that there are a lot of customers willing to be able to use the railway sector. But then if the trains are going to be derailed and they are going to be taking one week between Ndola and Livingstone, then, people are out there to make money and so they will look for alternative transportation,” said Tayali.

“That is why the challenge is can we bring it to a sort of level of competitiveness where customers will be guaranteed safe passage of their goods to the next destination. I think that is what we ought to be talking about. I think for now even to talk about the statistics of what business we are enjoying, we would be doing a disservice. Let us look at the potential that would potentially come once we have raised the capacity.”