Railways AfricaTM

Issue: 5 - 2017

If port operators in Africa are seeing improved volumes, even if, just marginally, then why are rail volumes declining? One could argue that this could be due to railway operators in Africa struggling with the maintenance and rehabilitation of their networks, or could it be because traditional commodities have shifted? I am looking forward to finding out more at the upcoming Africa Ports and Rail Evolution in Durban this month. There were some interesting outcomes from the event last year, especially around rail as we know it now and the future, in terms of what is coming, for example, the Hyperloop.

On the topic of technology, Rio Tinto has successfully completed the first fully autonomous rail journey at its iron ore operations in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. The nearly 100km pilot run was completed without a driver on board, making it the first fully autonomous heavy haul train journey ever completed in Australia. Full commissioning of the AutoHaul® project is expected towards the end of 2018, once all relevant safety and acceptance criteria have been met and regulatory approvals obtained.

Whilst we have covered a connected Africa for the movement of freight a number of times over the years, I don’t think that I have considered a “Continental High-Speed Rail” connecting Africa. Yes, of course, the dream of Cape-to-Cairo and yes covering high-speed rail projects within a region, either proposed or built, until I came across a news article, titled “A Continental High-Speed Rail” from Nepad.

In edited form for the purpose of my column, it reads; “The first meeting of the steering committee and experts of the Continental High-Speed Rail Network project opened on Monday 25 September in Dakar, with the aim of sharing the experiences of member countries while waiting for the feasibility study. This project is an initiative of the NEPAD Agency, in the framework of the African Union's Agenda 2063, which is the main continental strategy for regional integration through the provision of infrastructure.”

The first session of the meeting was devoted to presentations on the experiences of Senegal, South Africa and Morocco, the latter two countries considered to be the most advanced in this field, which could inspire other countries on the continent.

The Continental High-Speed Rail Network (HSR) project is backed by a long-term vision that has a draft action plan and an institutional framework, a general framework in which several actions have been carried out since 2015. An overall feasibility study of the project still needs to be developed in order to proceed to the implementation phase, which would involve taking charge of points relating to the cost of the project, its viability on how to deploy it through the continent and the choice of technology to be used. The initiative would not start from scratch as several countries are engaged in similar projects, wherein some are still in the planning phase.

Adama Deen, Senior Advisor to the CEO, and Project Manager, Continental High-Speed Railway Project, at the NEPAD Agency, stressed the need to develop a study and a pilot project. The Study would explore the quantification of three key viability factors: the strategic equity and strategic debt required, as well as, the multiple revenue streams, to make the first 10-Year Implementation Plan, and the first country- regional pilot project viable, for implementation by 2023.

Adama Deen is quoted as saying, "In essence, we have a target to reach 20% network development by 2023; hence, we will be working with "willing and ready" countries, and their respective regional economic communities, to define the first set of regional HSR pilot projects. Starting in 2018, we will have a clearer idea of what we want. For which viable and solid decisions must be taken, allowing the project to move forward”.

I look forward to following the progress.

October is transport month in South Africa. During the month, the department of transport and public entities in partnership with the private sector, showcase transport infrastructure services in aviation, maritime, public transport and roads. October was declared Transport Month in 2005 during the Transport Lekgotla. It is used to raise awareness on the important role of transport in the economy and to encourage participation from civil society and business, including the provision of safe, affordable, accessible and reliable transport systems in the country.