Ivory Coast to Build Railway to Boost Output From Western Mines

Ivory Coast plans to build a railway linking the west of the country with the port town of San Pedro as it seeks to boost production from nickel and iron mines in the region, Mines and Energy Minister Augustin Comoe said.

“The west is overflowing with nickel, manganese and iron,” he said by phone from Abidjan today. Construction of the railway will begin in 2014 and “we’re looking to transport about 22 million metric tons of minerals” a year, Comoe said.

Ivory Coast, the world’s largest cocoa producer, is aiming to boost the contribution of mining to the nation’s gross domestic product to 10 percent by 2020 from 1.5 percent now, the Ministry of Mines and Energy has said.

Infrastructure in the western region has deteriorated following a 2002 armed conflict that split the country into a government-held south and rebel-controlled north.

The planned 737-kilometer (458-mile) rail network will transport minerals to San Pedro from the Guinea and Liberian border regions, Comoe said. The line will also carry about 45,000 tons of cocoa a year and 24,500 tons of timber, he said.

Studies prior to the outbreak of the conflict eight years ago estimated that the cost of building the rail line would be about 860 billion CFA francs ($1.8 billion), Comoe said. That estimate will now need to be updated, he said, without providing further details.

The planned railway will run as far north-west as the town of Man, a former rebel-held town some 250 kilometers north of San Pedro. The Ivory Coast plans to hold elections on Oct. 31.

“There is no more conflict, elections are going ahead, so we are assuring investors it is now safe to begin exploiting minerals here,” Comoe said.

Companies including BHP Billiton Ltd. and ArcelorMittal, which have operations in neighboring Guinea and Liberia, are potential investors in talks with Ivory Coast, he said, without commenting further.

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