Five Southern African countries plan to coordinate their rail services to bolster trade through Africa's largest port in Durban, South Africa's railway company said Monday.
The deal will do away with bilateral agreements which complicate the export of copper, grain and containers across five countries through South Africa.
"The main objective is to align the five railway lines towards a unified railway system on the North-South Corridor by establishing a Joint Operating Centre in Bulawayo," said Nyameka Madikizela, head of international business at Transnet Freight Rail.
Railways companies in the Democratic Republic of Congo and landlocked Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana will streamline their existing rail infrastructure to facilitate transport to South Africa's Indian Ocean port.
The lack of a regional deal causes many delays in exports and imports.
Increased outside trade with the continent has seen a greater need for intra-regional cooperation to get important resources across vast areas to ocean ports.
"The opportunities exist in copper, chrome ore, etc. where the mines need some confidence in rail and by co-operating through this agreement, we can develop a strategy that will provide capacity immediately," Madikizela told AFP.
The deal will see rail take over volumes which the region's roads mostly carry at the moment, she added.
It will also bolster Durban's competitiveness against ports in Tanzania on the Indian Ocean and Angola on the Atlantic.
The rail centre, run from Zimbabwe, is due to launch this year.