The Momase Trans-National Railway: PNG’s Future Transportation

The coming of the railway to PNG – is it a realistic dream or merely a fleeting fantasy?

If today’s Post-Courier editorial and article is anything to go by, it is a realistic dream – and a bloody good one too. Because I am such a believer in the establishment of a railway in PNG, I would like to announce for the record, that I already have a name for it: the Momase Trans-National Railway (MTNR).

It’s heartening to see that the force pushing for the realisation of conducting a feasibility study into the notion of building a railway line from Lae (Morobe) to Vanimo (West Sepik) is a combined effort from the respective Governors of the Momase Region.

Speaking on the Governors’ intention on challenging the Government to provide K350,000 (AU$200,000) to carry out studies on the feasibility of the proposal, chairman of the 11th Momase Regional Governor’s Conference and Morobe Governor Luther Wenge said:

This railway has been raised by this conference since 2006 as the conference sees that the geographical landscape of the Momase region would allow a reliable railway system to be built. When this railway is built, we will only have feeder roads linking up to the main railway. This means, movement of cargos and freight goods will be confined at these locations“.

There have been previous attempts at building railways in PNG but on much smaller proportions. The Germans built a number of plantation railways in Rabaul and Madang and you can still see remnants of a railway as you walk around Lae Top-Town. Michael Pearson, now the Chairman of the Teaching Commission, co-authored the 1997 book End of the Line: A History of Railways in Papua New Guinea. You can read it online here.

The Trains are Coming...Hopefully

There are MASSIVE benefits for PNG as a nation to establish and maintain a railway in the Momase Region connecting Lae, Madang, Wewak and Vanimo.

Here are some of the advantages I identified:

  • The utilization of local raw materials as much as possible
  • Increase in the traffic of goods and passengers around PNG
  • Retaining the top rating of important commercial centres Lae, Madang, and Vanimo as key commodity-trading points in PNG to Asia, the Pacific, and Australia
  • Provide cheaper freight and competitive freight options for the growing commercial bases of Vanimo, Wewak and Madang
  • Boost regional development and support the growing agribusiness developments in the Ramu and Markham Valleys
  • Support mineral exploration along the railway corridor by providing a cheaper transport option for high bulk freight
  • Boost employment and training opportunities: hundreds of direct jobs will be created during the construction of the railway and many more in a flow-on effect to service and supply areas
  • Boost the local industries of the surrounding villages
  • Bring new capabilities into West and East Sepik
  • Support PNG Defence needs, by providing a means of moving troops and equipment (this would have been invaluable during the Indonesian incursion into PNG). It will also allow for future large defence movements to training grounds around the Momase Region.
  • Reduction of road accidents along the Madang Highway

Leaders of PNG are regularly criticised for having a lack of vision for our country. This proposal is nothing more than visionary and I truly do hope that Government does commit to the K350,000 the Momase Governors are asking for as it is definitely worth the investment.

If the railway does go ahead, one concern I do have is the Momase people’s respect for the railway as a vital service and as being owned by the collective – that is the Nation. Just imagine what would happen if landowners decided to block the railway to voice concerns about their dissatisfaction with either royalties, claims for compensation, and/or the possible problems passengers may instigate? It would be utter chaos.

On the bright side, I smell KINA – lots and lots of it. Money will be made here so don’t stand around and watch the opportunity roll on by. You have been warned : )

~ by Tavurvur on November 4, 2008.

7 Responses to “The Momase Trans-National Railway: PNG’s Future Transportation”

  1. In Australia companies like Toll Holdings have united disparate rail operations to create a cost effective rail road operation for industry across Australia. They could be a good company to look at in terms of assistance with building the MTNR.

    Do you think a monorail could work as well for POM, considering the surge in traffic and the population? Just wondering whether that should also be a consideration since our city populations could increase by 30-40% with the PNGLNG project coming up.

  2. Thanks again for you comment Emmanuel!

    This is one project which I am 100% for. Yes, there are drawbacks, there are negatives – but the positives are so much greater if we MANAGE this well.

    The possibilities are HUGE – ranging from tourism to defence, medicine to the industrial sector.

    I’m not too sure on a monorail for POM – not yet. We need to fix up our current urban infrastructure and public transport sorted first.

  3. Okay I’ll hold on my monorail plans then. Well I think Central Province is geographically possible and to get started. Guess someone needs to do a detailed study on this. It will take allot of money so we need to see what we’re getting ourselves into here.

    On the other hand there is also the option of improving our wharves for increased shipping activity for all the industries you mentioned.

  4. I have studied the development of Railways in PNG for 40 years. PNG is now at the economic stage for the extensive development of railways. I have worked on proposals for Railways in the Momase region Lae tramways, Port Moresby Railway and tramway, Papuan region railway Milne Bay Islands, Bougainville “Peace Train”, West New Britain and East New Britain, New Ireland, All are possible and will vastly improve the economy of PNG and greatly reduce her dependence on imports while giving her exports a significant advantage on the world market. They are actively discouraged by donors who would like PNG to be a economically dependent country and not an economically indepenent country

  5. Michael,

    Thanks for your comments.

    I find your line “they are actively discouraged by donors who would like PNG to be a economically dependent country and not an economically independent country” very disconcerting.

    I wonder if by having more autonomous provincial governments, e.g. ENB – whether that will lead to a greater possibility of the implementation of railway.

    I might send you an email Michael.



  6. Tavurvur, I was only in Kokopo a month ago and with the help of the architect of the KBR we located the route of the 1890s railway at Kokopo up the valley at Kinepot towards Raniolo. It went from the beach where the new beach access road comes up and across the block towards Brian Bells and then up the valley. Ian later found old relics in the valley. The Germans originally intended to build a railway from Rabaul out the north coast to the Bainings, the tunnel at tunnel hill was part of that project,
    the railway materials were impounded in Manila – Philippines – at the start of WW1 and eventually got use in the Philippines after the war. The Australians did rebuild the tram lines in Rabaul town and up Namanula Hill. I am still trying to find evidence of a line from Matupi to Rabaul (about 1909 to 1914) that was used to supply materials to build the NDL wharf, which later became the Rabaul – Rapindik railway from 1927 to 1937.
    On the economic side a railway is between 4 to 10 time more economic than road transport.
    On another Project the Lae Port Development – A railway from Lae to NADZAB container storage area would be an ideal test case of many ideas I have to develop railways in PNG

  7. Tavurvur and other I am happy to say that Powes Pakok has put a proposal for railway development before Parliament (Post Courier 17th July 2009 – Headline.
    Tavurvur can you contact me as virus zap all my addreses

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