Here in the UK, we often complain about our rail network with the trains are often delayed and expensive tickets. But, not only can the rail networks transport  us around the country, or even into Europe, for work or pleasure, freight trains trundle around the country delivering goods from coal and oil to food products. Without the network up and running, we would miss it.

In Africa,this isn’t the case. Most of the rail networks were built during colonial periods, to facilitate the movement of the military and goods from the large farming and mining operations. After the independence, borders were broken up and the rail network didn’t have the same relevance as previously. Ran by inefficient public bodies, most railways have decayed and fallen into disrepair.  I have rarely seen a train there, and when I have it has been trudging along slowly through the city, while people lazily stroll across the train track in front of it. The railways sometimes even have little market settlements on them, making it impossible to drive a train along them.

This impacts the continent in many ways. Not only is it long and tiresome to travel around countries or between countries, the cost of transporting freight in land from the coast is very high. Currently, most freight transportation relies on trucks taking the long journeys along the often badly maintained roads, which is neither safe or efficient.

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Pot holed road in Africa

Lack of investment in infrastructure is a major topic amongst academics, potential and active investors and Think Tanks and conferences. With rail travel, it once again comes down to investment. And this investment is deeply needed, in my opinion. Currently, in Africa, the rail networks share of freight transport in most countries is below 20%. (20% is a lot higher than I would have expected)

With abundant natural wealth across the continent, an effective continent wide rail network is imperative to help Africa achieve it’s full potential.

In South Africa and north Africa, rail networks are relatively effective, but the rest of the continent is lagging far behind. This in depth study by the African Development Bank, outlines changes that they believe will  stir the sector into growth.

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Shosholoza train in South Africa

There is some room for hope though. Nigeria has just opened Africa’s first standard gauge rail line between Abuja and Kaduna in the north and President Buhari has hinted at rehabilitating 3 narrow gauge rail lines and building new tracks across the country. The Chinese, who built Nigerian project, have also offered a loan to Tanzania to build a regional railway link. This will enable Tanzania to take advantage of its long coastline and offer better freight services to the landlocked countries in the heart of Africa, hopefully boosting the economies of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The Ghanaian High Commissioner to Malaysia has also recently spoken, inviting the Malaysians to get involved in developing a railway from the South to the North of Ghana, a journey that can currently take over 10 hours by car. He believes that this would especially help lower income society in Ghana. In 2010 the Ghanaians finished renovations on the railway between the capital Accra and Ghana’s major port city, Tema.

With an incredible amount of innovation coming out of the continent, I am surprised that I can not find any ideas for African specific rail networks. Whether a solar powered train learning from the Kayoola Solar Bus in Uganda, or a faster way of preparing the land and laying the tracks.

If anyone knows of any rail or train innovations coming out of Africa, let me know by commenting here, or on Twitter

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8 thoughts on “Did you know Africa needs more train services

  1. At the rate some Africans are setting them on fire, we will soon have none left. Another gutted near Retreat yesterday (Sunday.) We lost our business and income because trains were set on fire. Arsonists are our biggest enemy.

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    1. I am sorry to hear that you lost your business and income because of arson. Is it mindless arson, or is there a reason behind it? I am interested to know what kind of business you are involved in that uses the rail network? I have not heard of trains being burnt elsewhere on the continent, is it a South African phenomena?

      Thanks a lot for reading and commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you for your information. It is very interesting for me to have another perspective. I very much hope the transport system improves across the continent. There are many that struggle to peddle their wares simply because they can not reach the market.

        Liked by 1 person

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