Unlocking Mineral Resource Potential in Southern African Countries- Is Rail Infrastructure Upto the Challenge?
Priyanka Parida, Ingérop South Africa (Pty) Ltd
Following a review of corridors and railway projects in Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Swaziland, this paper identifies the strategic challenges with regard to rail infrastructure provision.
In the recent years, there has been new coal, iron-ore and manganese discoveries in Southern African countries, and increased trade with emerging economies. However, a key concern is market access and critical infrastructure challenges regarding railways and ports. These factors combine to hinder expansion of trade within Africa and globally. As a result of historic underinvestment in transport infrastructure, these countries are facing an “infrastructure gap”. Most of the railway systems in southern Africa are not functioning as they should. This is corroborated by evidence from their budgets and performance indicator achievements. They are extremely unreliable, with high accident and failure rates. Their operating costs are high and volumes of goods transported are low compared to that transported by road in that about 5% of regional traffic volumes (excluding South Africa) travel by rail (Mark Paerson and Bo Giersing, 2012). Hence, economic development and regional integration in Southern African countries hinges on rehabilitation of existing rail infrastructure, and on building new rail infrastructure.
Following a review of corridors and railway projects in Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Swaziland, this paper identifies the strategic challenges with regard to rail infrastructure provision. Inadequacies in existing infrastructure are identified through gap analysis and illustrated through two case study corridors. In the policy context, the gauge and inter-operability issue i.e. Standard Gauge vs Cape Gauge, taking into account the requirements for interconnections with other regional railways is examined. The current railway network in Southern Africa is built with Cape Gauge, which includes South Africa, Namibia and Botswana. Synergistically, this serves the purpose of immediate inter- regional connectivity, although, rendering itself unsuitable for transportation of minerals, which provides the threshold traffic volumes for financial viability. This is also likely to be a political decision as “ Adoption of Standard Gauge for new railway constructions” was adopted by African Union(AU) as one of the strategic orientations for the development and management of railway transport in Africa. Some of the other enablement issues are promotion of green technologies, and a robust institutional framework for providing clear guidelines on balanced regulation for ownership and operational structures, promotion of principle of multiple users, and access agreements.
Moving forward, an overview of plans and programmes viz; the Southern African Development Community(SADC) - Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan ,the forthcoming Programme of Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA) by the New Partnership for African Development( NEPAD),and the key to policy transfer are discussed.
Association for European Transport