Interconnected railways needed in Africa

By Magreth Nunuhe

Windhoek – Transnet, South Africa’s main operator of ports, railway and pipelines is ready to expand and diversify its operations into new geographical locations in Africa, says Siyabonga Gama, Transnet Group Chief Executive. 

We are at the point where we are diversifying from our South African base to go into some of the African countries,” Gama stated during the African Rail Evolution summit and expo held in Durban on 17-18 October 2017.

The summit, which coincides with the African Port Evolution, is addressing the latest trends and techniques in maintenance and rehabilitation to put African rail back on track.

“It is against this background that Transport Week presents the African Rail Evolution Forum, co-located with the 6th Annual African Ports Evolution Forum and KZN Export Week. The forum celebrates Transport Month and unites the largest network of African port and rail authorities, port and rail operators, developers and EPCs, financiers and consultants, government and regulators, and representatives from the private sector.” Programme Director, Nico Loretz explained.

The forum looks at ways to enhance regional connectivity and inter modal value chain opportunities to drive social and economic development in Africa.

The state-owned Transnet has invested R300 billion in an infrastructural programme running since 2012 to 2019, with the lion’s share of R151 billion to be spent on general freight and container services, while R50 billion has been or is to be used to purchase new electrical and diesel locomotives.

The transport entity has already linked up with Swaziland Railway, where an ambitious railway project underway will see the construction of a 150km railway line from Lothair (Mpumalanga, South Africa) to Sidvokodvo (Swaziland).

“We are going to take the core competencies of Transnet in terms of port, rail and pipeline. We will leverage that to diversify geographically,” said Gama.

It is expected that for the next five years, 60 percent of all investment in African rail will go towards maintenance and rehabilitation projects to give impetus to inter regional development and collaboration between the public and private sectors.

Namibia’s Walvis Bay Corridor Group (WBCG), another participant at the African Rail Evolution summit, also expressed the need for an integrated transport system in Africa, saying that the majority of national railway networks in sub-Saharan Africa are mostly independent of each other except for some parts in the Eastern and Southern African rail systems, which are interconnected.

“Transport volumes in the southern African region are increasing and Namibia is rapidly developing into a highly stable gateway and transit hub for neighbouring countries.

“As a nation, we are undertaking several infrastructure projects such as railway upgrades and the expansion of the Port of Walvis Bay,” Clive Smith, Manager for the Logistics Hub Project at WBCG, said.

Some of the benefits of rail are that it opens up access to markets and facilitates intra-continental trade; rail border crossing system, offers a more secure clearance process and also provides a higher level of freight security than road systems, while high volumes of freight over long distances are transported at a lower cost on rail.

Namibia bought six new locomotives in 2015 at a cost of R1 billion.

Rail maintenance and rehabilitation in Africa is sometimes non-existent due to financial challenges or under-investment in rail infrastructure, but the on-going industrialisation of Africa is a clear indication of its commitment towards the transport sector.

There is constant pressure on governments to rehabilitate ageing infrastructure due to lack of investment, but the private sector can take advantage of poor delivery of services by government institutions by developing public-private-partnerships (PPP).

The Walvis Bay Port Users Association is of the opinion that PPP’s can increase competition and efficiency in service provision, expand coverage and reduce delivery cost.

“Private sector can manage more efficiently the entire supply chain needed to provide and distribute goods and services,” said the association, adding that private companies can also avoid the bureaucratic problems that plague national and municipal governments.

October 2017
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