UIC sets a 2040 Rail Strategy for Africa

Contrary to what is happening elsewhere, the railway network in Africa lacks density and still has a massive potential to be realised in terms of productivity, which can only be harnessed through clear and energetic public action. And yet, there are many positive signs despite this situation: railways are going through a revival across the world, evidenced by the large number of major, pivotal projects either being planned or underway. Africa is very much part of this new lease of life for railways, and has much to gain from the undeniable advantages railway technology can offer.

“Africa is currently going through massive demographic growth and economic, political and social upheavals, marked by a sea change in communications infrastructure development”, says UIC in “A new lease of life for African Rail – destination 2040” study.
Analysis of UIC data indicates that rail in Africa is facing difficulty positioning itself on the domestic land transport market. Statistics from the past six years clearly show that there has been no notable growth in railway traffic in the region over this period.
As a result, the overall volume carried by rail is still around 200 billion unit-km, of which 30% is passenger and 70% freight. This volume accounts for only 2% of global railway traffic, placing Africa last in terms of performance for this indicator.
It should nonetheless be realised that this somewhat weak performance cannot be applied to all railway networks in Africa. In North and South Africa, traffic figures have made significant progress thanks to the effort and money invested in improving the product offering and adapting to customer expectations, as well as meeting business needs.
Several local or regional projects and/or master plans have already been adopted and are being rolled out at a high level in the relevant countries, such as South Africa, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Kenya, Egypt and others, with a view to propelling trade both within Africa and with the rest of the world. These projects extend to a variety of levels, both regional and sub-regional, across the continent.
The sustainability of transport in Africa and railways in particular fits perfectly into the social master plan for which people in Africa are striving, and which will be achievable through national level strategies and policies. A comparative analysis of countries in Africa illustrates that efficient and effective sustainable transport is possible. Certain countries have made more progress than others. This gives them a strong competitive edge to a certain extent, but they are still dependent on the development of similar services in the south of the continent.
The aim of this strategy is to form a suitable complement and add value where possible, to the decisions already adopted by the African Union, and the declarations and pledges made by Ministers for Transport during the last two African transport conferences. The purpose is to strive for a mode of transport including all different modes that will serve as a tool for regional integration.

Introducing contract based programmes

Thus, UIC sets five strategy domains as Modernisation, development and interconnectivity of railways in Africa, Improving the product offering for passengers and businesses, Good governance of railways, Developing seamless multimodality and Promote regional interdependence.

Currently, the African railway network is not very developed. It has less than 90,000 km, or less than 5% of the world network, and has very low density of 3 km for every 1,000 km2 compared, for example, with 400 km/1,000 km2 in Europe. Africa has made promising economic progress over the past decade, although much effort still remains to be deployed in order to develop the railways and win some competitive economic advantage.
The need for mobility is constantly rising, economies are expanding and passenger needs and expectations are shifting. These facts mean that African countries must continue to invest money and effort to confirm their position as the most reliable transport mode for customers and the public at large. Achieving this goal can be approached in various ways, such as improving services, including price adaptation and greater range of products, and better communications.
The time present and the many strategies and Master Plans in most of the African countries with a better economy marks a historical turning point for most railways in Africa, as major restructuring, rebuilding and development plans are unveiled. “The success of these projects depends on the transparency and commitment of all parties concerned”, UIC says in its study.
Studies have shown that while some African railways have the benefit of new framework agreements with their public authorities and government, the majority still faces a lack of available resources needed for restructuring and rebuilding their networks. Lessons drawn from this reality have proved useful, and the solution found has come in the form of medium-term contract-based programmes signed with the state.

Railway development is in so many words linked to economic growth, use of energy resources and increasing trade between countries. It is therefore encouraging to see that the UAR master plan (Union of African Railways) for rail links in Africa includes numerous projects currently on the drawing board or being debated within the Regional Economic Communities and with financial institutions, which will contribute to regional integration in Africa between 2025-2035.

by Elena Ilie

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