Throughout history, Africa’s rail industry has played a key role in the economic development of the continent. Due to the aggressive development of the automobile industry during the past 50 years or so, investments in rail infrastructure were neglected.
The slow response of railways to adapt to the new market conditions resulted in dramatic traffic decline in rail transport and by the mid-90s most of Sub-Saharan African railways were in virtual bankruptcy, requiring permanent cash injection and large investments in infrastructure and rolling stock.
Between the mid-90s and 2010 most of the railways in Africa were concessioned – predominantly supported by the World Bank Group through grants and loans. Since 1996, the World Bank invested more than one billion dollars to support the efforts of governments and private operators. To reinforce the future of Rail in Africa, freight logistics between ports and rail need to be enhanced while the high logistics costs of freight rail be diminished. This will ensure growth of existing business whilst attracting new business and enhance opportunities for diversification.
Furthermore, the role of knowledge transfer and skills development cannot be underestimated. It is imperative for the industry to invest in their human capital to ensure a sustainable future.
Last, but not least, the backlog in infrastructure rehabilitation and maintenance remains a huge challenge for most railway operators on the continent and needs to be prioritised.
Railway operators, government representatives and industry experts from across Africa and abroad will gather in Durban from 18 – 19 October 2016 to debate and discuss the way forward. This very important gathering forms part of African Rail Evolution and will feature case study presentations on issues such as rail upgrade and maintenance, ways to decrease logistics costs of freight rail, enhance efficiency of rail through connecting it to ports, and more.