on August 13, 2013 in West Africa Unlike the situation in Southern Africa, which enjoys rail connectivity with well-developed infrastructure on a common gauge from Cape Town in South Africa to Swaziland, Namibia, Angola, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia, Mozambique, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), West Africa has nothing comparable. The individual countries rely on basic system, having differing gauges that have seen minimal maintenance and virtually no development for decades. In 2002, a loan agreement was signed in Abuja, Nigeria, by Ecowas (the Economic Community of West Africa) and the African Development Bank (AfDB) in respect of a feasibility study to be carried out as a basis for drawing up a sub-regional railway master plan. The 14-month study, aiming to connect Nigeria to Benin, Togo, Ghana and Côte d’ Ivoire by rail on a common gauge, cost approximately $US3.1 million. Recently a team of consultants assembled by HammcoBTB Engineering International Inc of Canada presented a report to representatives of the member countries in Accra, Ghana. It covered the implications of initiating design, preparing construction specifications and eventually implementing a “fast rail line” extending more than 1,000km across the sub-region. Chief Obaga Idow from Nigeria appealed to heads of state to commit themselves to the project, pointing out that the West African gas pipeline scheme took 35 years to get going. However, at a meeting of experts from the four countries, it was emphasised that a turnaround in the performance of existing railways is sorely needed before contemplating further extensions to the rail network. - See more at: http://www.railwaysafrica.com/blog/2013/08/ecowas%e2%80%99-proposed-west-african-railway/#sthash.Hw6PH56I.dpuf
DREAMING OF UTOPIA – AND STANDARD GAUGE
At a mid-September conference in Abuja, the World Bank’s Onno Ruhl demonstrated that realistic traffic forecasts could not support the level of expenditure needed for conversion to standard gauge. The existing 1,067mm gauge in Nigeria was “quite capable of transporting 100 million tonnes of freight per year at competitive costs as was the experience in South Africa where about 150 million tonnes of freight moves on the same gauge.” He foresaw that a “rehabilitated and efficiently operated railway” - which alone would cost up to $17bn - had sufficient potential to grow freight volumes to 4.2 million tonnes over a period of four to five years.
The existing narrow gauge line most likely has 30kg rail, flimsy sleepers, and sharp grades, curves and slow speeds to match, and by the time it is upgraded to handle 100MTpa, it may as well be changed to standard gauge to suit Pan-African connectivity and availability of off the shelf equipment. With the construction of completely new routes, the is a window of opportunity to change the gauge on an enlarged system.
One problem is transitioning from one gauge to the new one; this is helped by the fact that much of the existing system is non-operational. The gauge conversion experience between Port Augusta and Leigh Creek in the mid 1950s, is helpful.
A call by the sole independent presidential candidate of the 2012 election, Mr Jacob Osei Yeboah, on the heads of state of five West African nations to abandon the construction of a six-lane road from Lagos, Nigeria, to Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire for a double-lane return railway project has received immense support.
Sharing his perspective on the road project in an interview, he pointed out that the railway project would come with more benefits than the road project.
His suggestion has received support from a businessman of international repute who in supporting the call, expressed the view that goods and services which took almost three to four weeks to be transported from Lagos to Accra by road could get to the destination the same day under a railway system.
He said apart from the fact that the railway system was faster and cost-effective, it also helped to eliminate corruption at the borders where goods transported by roads were often un-loaded and reloaded, resulting in the loss of some of the goods.
He said, for example, that with the construction of the six-lane road, many houses would have to be demolished to make way for the road project while with the construction of a rail line not so much land would be required, thereby making the rail project beter than the six-lane road project in terms of cost.
Mr Nkansah, who is also an author and publisher, was of the view that the spate of accidents on the trunk roads, which is unacceptable, could be reduced to the minimum when the railway replaced the six-lane road network.
On the economic benefits to be derived by landlocked countries, Mr Badu Nkansah said the landlocked countries would be better and cheaper served with the construction of the double-lane return railway line project.
He said intra-African trade had not been able to grow to the level that could support socio-economic development in the sub-region because of the absence of a railway system that could transport bulk goods from one country to another.
Mr Badu Nkansah added that trade in Europe was growing faster everyday because European countries had a network of railway systems that carried goods and services.
It will be recalled that Ghana has agreed with four of its West African neighbours to invest in and expand the Lagos-Abidjan highway into a six-lane road to boost trade among the countries.
The leaders of the five countries - Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire - met on the sideline of the 21st Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union and agreed to commence the expansion project in 2014.
The highway will also provide a vital link to sea ports for the landlocked countries in the subregion, including Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. It is also expected to augment the productive infrastructure of the subregion and make the corridor more viable for doing business.
The five leaders have agreed to complete modalities for the joint funding of the project before the 2014 start date for the construction.