Railways AfricaTM

Issue: 6 - 2017

The African continent's trade potential is enormous. But for the continent to develop further and reach its full potential, ongoing investments in infrastructure growth are essential. 

Fortunately, this is exactly what is happening in the rail sector. Governments throughout the continent have been putting pragmatic legislation in place, teaming up with private investors, as they put in the effort required to roll out their long term plans. So, while 2017 proved to be a tough year for all rail stakeholders on the continent, all indicators point towards the fact that the collective dream of a modern, high-tech interconnected Africa is well on track. 

The future of rolling stock in the country looks just as promising. Transnet celebrated the handover of the first of 240 electric BOMBARDIER TRAXX locomotives for freight traffic. So far, 15 of these multi-system locomotives have been completed and operations are expected to start in the new year, they will be used to transport coal and ore. Gibela's new factory and training centre is now up and running, and work has begun on the manufacture of the first six-car X-Trapolis Mega commuter trains. 

Up north, Egypt is working towards playing a key role in driving regional integration on the continent. In two private roundtables held on the sidelines of the Africa 2017 Forum, hosted by the Egyptian resort city of Sharm el Sheikh during December, President Al Sisi said he would do whatever he could to bring the continent together, both politically and economically. Incidentally, the country is also exploring the possibility of expanding its SkyRail monorail to the ancient Egyptian port city of Alexandria. If the proposed project goes ahead, it will involve the construction of a 128km track – its goal being to relieve the city of chronic traffic jams. 

To help speed up travel and transportation in Namibia, the African Development Bank (AfDB) has approved a loan of US$153 million for the government to upgrade a 210km stretch of railway, as well as upgrade the section of road from the country's capital, Windhoek, to its international airport. 

Upgrading the railway track between Walvis Bay and Kranzberg will speed up both freight and passenger traffic. The current railway line was last upgraded in the 1960's and, in its current condition with speed restrictions is an infrastructure bottleneck, resulting in increased transport costs. This project is particularly important, as it will involve a direct linkage to Walvis Bay Port, and therefore speed up the passage of goods to and from the port into Namibia and beyond into other Southern African Development Community countries. The AfDB is also providing support in the expansion of the container terminal at Walvis Bay Port. 

In the DRC, Ivanhoe Mines is to rebuild 34km of track to connect the Kipushi Mine (which is on track to become the world’s highest-grade, major zinc mine) with the DRC national railway at Munama. The Kipushi-Munama spur line, which has been inactive since 2011, will be rebuilt under terms of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed by Ivanhoe Mines and the DRC’s state-owned railway company, Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer du Congo (SNCC). The DRC national railway is a key part of the international rail corridor that links the DRC Copperbelt to major seaports at Durban and Richards Bay in South Africa, Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and Lobito in Angola. 

East Africa is in on the action too. The African Development Bank (AfDB) and other participating co-lenders have signed agreements for the financing of the Nacala Corridor project. This is an integrated and transformative infrastructure project, consisting a 912km railway and deep sea port meant to unlock the Western region of Mozambique and landlocked Malawi. The total project cost is estimated at US$5 billion. When the rail comes into full operation, coal exports are expected to increase by 40% in 2018, generating crucial foreign earnings for the Mozambique economy at a time the country is witnessing a cyclical downturn. The project anticipates 4 million tonnes a year of freight capacity for non-coal commodities, and opening up of regional agricultural producers to world markets. 

As you can see, plenty is happing right now when it comes to rail infrastructure developments on the continent, which bodes well for 2018. 

On that note, I wish to thank my readers and advertisers for their support over the last year and I look forward to reporting on your successes during 2018!