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Tanzania Railways bans journalists from second SGR trial run after 1st run embarrassment

Media practitioners in Tanzania were on March 19, 2024, barred from covering the second Standard Gauge Railway trial run three weeks after an embarrassing first trial run.

Journalists had gathered at the train station awaiting access to cover the trial run like they did the first time around but were only met by security guards and locked doors.

This prompted them to camp at the station and lament at how the Tanzania Railways Corporation (TRC) was behaving towards journalists.

“We are journalists and we are here for the second trial run of the SGR but unfortunately, more than 30 journalists have been told they are not accredited and were not invited. This has shocked me because this is a government project. As we speak, there are people who are letting President Samia Suluhu down because this is one of her projects. These reporters are here to truthfully report the development projects by President Suluhu but look, the gates are locked to prevent journalists from entering,” said Ahmed Kombo, a Tanzanian journalist, in part.

He went on to say such behavior was intolerable in the face of the government struggling to highlight their development projects to citizens but online journalists were being locked out despite their instant access to followers and readers on various platforms. He also accused the Corporation of picking select journalists while locking others out and then complaining that the media was not cooperating with them.

In response, Mr Boniface Jacob, the former mayor of Ubungo and Kinondoni, told the journalists they were locked out for telling the truth about the electric SGR.

“You people do not know what mistakes you made? It was reporting the truth that the new train used five hours during the first trial run instead of reporting lies from those who said it would take 90 minutes. Inside those trains, will they only board (TRC CEO Masanja Kungu )Kadogosa’s parrots?” asked Mr Jacob.

It is widely believed the journalists were locked out due to the previous embarrassment the Tanzania Railways Corporation suffered the first time around when their electric SGR suffered glaring failures that went viral in East Africa. The first trial run had invited guests including influencers and online journalists.

The first trial run was off to a rocky start on February 26, 2024, when the electric train lost power twice and took five hours to cover a distance of 196 kilometers at 40km/hr despite the touted 90 minutes from Dar-es-Salaam to Morogoro at 160 km/hr. This was cause for widespread mockery in and out of Tanzania in February 2024 as sampled below:

“After travelling for 30 mins, the train’s power went out, affecting some lights, sockets, AC, but it continued the journey. Power was quickly restored, but it went out again from 11:18am to 11:59am Tanzania Railway Corporation says the loss of power was due to a ‘neutral zone’, an electric blackout zone,” reported The Citizen.

“Inside Tanzania SGR, trains are so beautiful and comfortable. The problem is the current slow speed. Govt plans to start Dar – Dodoma trips by July this year in under 3 hours, Morogoro in 90 minutes. Unfortunately, Dar-Moro testing today took 5 hours…

This train has arrived in Morogoro. The 90mins mins journey took 5 hours. Plus SGR prices are twice compared to buses. You have to be insane to take SGR at the moment. DISASTER! 😭 😭,” lamented one Tanzanian.

“What were they testing? Speed? Reliability of the railway line? If we don’t know what they were testing, we can’t judge. But if it was me, I wouldn’t have tested it at full speed,” added Lingz.

This failures occurred in the face of Tanzania constantly mocking Kenya’s Standard Gauge Railway for being too expensive and using diesel engines compared to their electric ones. One of their politicians went as far as mocking Kenyans for taking huge loans to build such an expensive railway line, saying it would take more than 25 years for Kenya to repay the loan.

Kenya originally had the intention of building a modern SGR from Mombasa through Kampala, Uganda to Kigali, Rwanda but this hit a dead end in Naivasha, Nakuru County in Kenya after Chinese contractors refused to finance the last leg of this railway after failing to reach an agreement with Uganda.

Tanzania then sparked rivalry with Kenya when it announced its own Standard Gauge Railway that would see it run from Tabora to Kigoma and onwards to the borders of Burundi and the Democratic Republic Of Congo as well as Rwanda and Uganda.

However, testing of the Tanzanian train and official commencing of cargo and passenger trains has been delayed for two years. When the project is finalized the Railway Corporation hopes to connect the port of Dar-es-Salaam to the landlocked countries of Burundi, DR Congo, Uganda, and Malawi.

Kenya has, meanwhile, announced plans to extend her SGR line to Uganda, Rwanda, DR Congo, and also build a separate one linking Lamu Port with South Sudan and Ethiopia.

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