The Democratic Republic of the Congo (capital: Kinshasa) should not be confused with the Republic of the Congo (capital: Brazzaville)
The first railway in what was then the Belgian Congo (at the time a new country, created from the former Congo Free State) was an 800km line opened around 1910 from Bukama, in the copper producing region of Katanga, to the Rhodesian border at Sakania. There, it connected with lines constructed by the British, which by that date allowed through traffic all the way to the Cape of Good Hope.
The gauge of the Katanga Railway was 3ft 6in (1067mm), the same as that used in Rhodesia. Subsequent development in the south east of the country was to the same gauge, most notably the Benguela Railway, which opened from Lobito in Angola to the border town of Dilolo in 1929, although it was another 2 years before the line was completed to its junction with the existing railway at Tenke.
Elsewhere in the country, a number of isolated groups of lines sprang up with various gauges, 600mm, 765mm, 1000mm and 1067mm. Some of these lines were effectively portage routes to avoid difficult sections of river navigation. Almost all of these have subsequently closed.
The original main line forms the core of a network of 1067mm gauge lines in the south east of the country around 3600km in extent. 858km of the line from the Zambian border is electrified. The lines are operated by SNCC. Passenger services operate on many of the lines but may be infrequent.
The original international connection with Zambia remains open for freight. That with Angola reopened in 2018 after a long period of closure of the Benguela Railway. There are no regular international passenger services, but a luxury cruise train operates on a route connecting Tanzania and Angola via Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
A metre gauge railway, a lone survivor of the original portage routes along the Congo river, runs from Kisangani to Ubundu, a distance of about 125km. SNCC operates mixed (passenger and freight) trainst connecing with river boats at Kisangani.
A separate 365km metre gauge railway connects the capital, Kinshasa, with the port of Matadi. Freight and passenger services are operated by SCTP.
In 2018, the Ndjandja Project was launched with the object of rehabilitating existing railways and building new ones to form a comprehensive national network with a direct outlet to a new Atlantic port at Banana.
In 2023, it was announced that a 300km commuter rail network would be developed for Kinshasa.
Also in 2023, a feasibility study was initiated for a new standard gauge line from a connection with the existing network at Kindu to Gitega in Burundi.
© 2006-2023 Glyn Williams
Photo image by Redhonda from Wikimedia Commons