One of Liberia’s most valuable economic infrastructures is being threatened by criminals, requiring the swift response of the government before it is too late to act.
The Yekepa-to-Buchanan railway, which was rehabilitated after the civil by ArcelorMittal Liberia at a cost of over US$500 million, is being constantly destroyed by criminals who remove the rail fasteners and other components to sell on the local metal scrap market.
Removal of rail fasteners compromises the safety of the railway and often leads to a derailment, thus threatening the lives of railway operators, community dwellers and the environment.
About a week ago, ArcelorMittal Liberia reported a derailment on the rail track involving one of its locomotives en route from the mines in Yekepa to the port in Buchanan.
The company said this was due to the rampant theft by unknown individuals of railway fasteners that secure the tracks to the rail sleepers.
The incident happened around the Liberia Agriculture Company (LAC) in Grand Bassa County and resulted in a shutdown of the company’s mining operations, impacting the shipment and transport of iron ore out of Liberia.
Such incidents have dire financial consequences for the company and the government as ArcelorMittal Liberia pays high royalties and taxes to the government on the shipment of iron ore. Repair of the track because of such derailment is also a very expensive venture.
With Liberia already struggling to attract foreign direct investment, these criminal activities, if not abated by the government, could ruin the country’s profile as a favorable environment for investment.
In a statement issued after the derailment, ArcelorMittal condemned the criminal activities on the rail infrastructure and called for the arrest and prosecution of those found culpable. Since then, police sources have confirmed the arrest of at least two trucks loaded with stolen rail ties. One of the trucks is said to be impounded in Gbarnga, Bong County, while the other truck cannot be accounted for.
Some residents along the AML rail corridor asked for the government to name and shame those responsible because “…criminal elements are giving residents a bad name”. They opined that the government’s swift action to prevent such criminal acts and prosecute those responsible will demonstrate its commitment to protecting investors and creating a safe business environment.
Protecting the Yekepa-Buchanan railway and ensuring that it is safe is critical for the economic future of Liberia, especially at a time when the government is reviewing for passage the third amended mineral development agreement of ArcelorMittal Liberia, while at the same time looking towards attracting other investors and users of the railway.
Sources in the office of the Solicitor General spoken with on condition of anonymity (because they were not authorized to speak to the press) said the Solicitor General was leading a “high power security delegation” of prosecutors and police investigators to the theft areas, and the town of Zolowee (in Nimba County) when violence recently erupted.