Sudan is planning a $643 million revamp of its shattered railway network before connecting it to neighboring countries, part of efforts to revive an economy ravaged by decades of dictatorship and global isolation.
The African Development Bank, China State Construction Engineering Corp. Ltd. and unspecified Gulf firms have expressed interest in helping restore about 2,400 kilometers (1,490 miles) of currently idled rail-lines, according to the state-run Sudan Railways Corp.
The government will first spend $17 million making emergency repairs to parts of the other half of the national network that’s already in use.
“It’s essential for the economic development of the country,” SRC’s general manager, Waleed Mahmoud Ahmed, said in an interview in the capital, Khartoum.
The North African nation where dictator Omar al-Bashir was ousted in 2019 is racing to salvage an economy saddled with billions of dollars of foreign debt and a transportation sector plagued by the effects of decades of sanctions, unrest and mismanagement.
The U.S.‘s lifting of Sudan’s long-standing designation as a sponsor of terrorism in December has made it easier to import key components, while the clearing of its International Monetary Fund arrears is unlocking new financing.
Under the second phase of the railway project to be completed by 2024, Sudan plans to rehabilitate abandoned lines mainly in the country’s south.
That will restore links to the cities of Madani, Kosti and Sennar, as well as Nyala in the war-torn western region of Darfur, while establishing a cross-border connection to Wau in South Sudan, according to Ahmed. Part of the financing will be from a $75 million World Bank grant, he said.
A yet more ambitious third stage envisages connecting Sudan with neighboring Ethiopia, Chad, Eritrea and the Central African Republic.
One line that may be built by China State Construction Engineering would stretch from Port Sudan on the Red Sea across Darfur to Chad, while another that the African Development Bank may finance would connect the coastal city with Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, Ahmed said. A feasibility study into the latter is underway, he said.
The AfDB’s communications team couldn’t immediately comment on Sudan’s plans, while two calls made to the phone number listed on China State Construction Engineering’s website weren’t answered.
Foreign companies are becoming increasingly involved in Sudan’s infrastructure and transportation sectors as the country sheds the pariah status it gained under Bashir and reconnects with global markets.
The United Arab Emirates previously had a plan to invest in Sudanese projects including a railway from Port Sudan to the Ethiopian capital that was stymied by a territorial dispute between the two African nations over a border area, Sudanese Finance Minister Gibril Ibrahim told Bloomberg this month.
Lufthansa Consulting GmbH in June signed a preliminary agreement to help restructure Sudan Airways, one of Africa’s oldest carriers that in recent years has cut most of its routes and struggled to maintain its fleet. Ports on Sudan’s Red Sea coastline are also the object of competing development bids from companies including DP World and China Harbour Engineering Co.