Keynote address at the African Union Rail conference by his Excellency honourable South African Minister of Transport, Mr Jeff Radebe, Johannesburg
20 November 2007
African Union (AU) Commissioner, Dr Zoba
President of the Union of African Railways Mr Gama
Secretary-General of the Union of African Railways, Mr Elghul
Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the International Union of Railways, Mr Sharma
Chief Executives of the various Railway Companies
Members of the media
Ladies and gentlemen
South Africa is proud to host this very important meeting in pursuit of the decisions taken by the Transport Ministers in Brazzaville to invest and establish integrated rail systems for socio-economic development within the African Continent. For Africa to grow and take its rightful place in global trade it is important for our rail transport to be efficient and effective as well as globally competitive to provide our companies with a competitive advantage in the global markets.
For the sustained growth that we aspire to achieve, railways must play an important role. We therefore have a need for a greater integration, interoperability and interconnectivity between rail operators and systems in order to provide a framework for the joint delivery of a cost-effective, regionally integrated, seamless and predictable Africa rail transport service. It is therefore an honour for me to deliver a keynote address in this gathering that seeks to achieve exactly that.
Distinguished guests, it is true that rail transport has been from time in memorial the cornerstone for passenger and freight movement through out the world. Railways therefore have a dual role to play in any society and these being economic and social in nature. The economic role of railways has always been to provide a platform through which movement of people and goods is seamless and does not hinder economic participation and instead serve to enhance vibrant economic production and trade.
Our access to local and international economies heavily relies on the ability of the rail system to be responsive and flexible to global changes particularly in demand for goods. Therefore our railways must at all times provide companies with the ability to compete globally irrespective of changes in the commodities under trade.
The social role of railway transport is to provide communities with access to social services that define the social being of people in their daily interactions. These interactions might be economic in nature from the view point of passenger service, but also play a crucial role in the social wellbeing of African people.
Given the above roles, our railways face a number of challenges that hamper our rail system to fully realise its role and potential. This conference of experts must serve as a platform for the development of solutions to these challenges identified by the meeting of Ministers of Transport responsible for railways in order to facilitate integration, development and promotion of intra-Africa trade.
These challenges include the:
* Elimination of missing rail infrastructure links.
* Development of policies and instruments to bring private sector participation in the railways.
* Identification of main African infrastructure integration projects in order to achieve the objectives of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the Almaty Programme of Action.
* Commitment to source funds to support African Railways.
* There also needs to be a clear articulation of the role of state in driving factors that contribute to the current state of the African rail network. This will help in the assessment of previous shortcomings as well as inform future reform of the African rail industry.
To this end, the action plan that will be adopted here must help the African Union and the various African governments to deal with these challenges whilst helping Africa to integrate. It must however be emphasised that more work needs to be done if Africa is to integrate. There has to be a clear articulation of the future vision of the African Railways.
I am told that the Union of African Railways (UAR) as well as the International Union of Railways (UIC) has begun the development of the African Railway master plan. In my view, this plan must also deal with the current debate on the move away from cape gauge to standard gauge in order to maximise the integration of railway systems in Africa.
It must also define and identify rail Corridors that would constitute the Pan-African Railway Network to facilitate trade and economic integration in the Continent. Key corridors are a prerequisite for the regional integration and the removal of the missing links. To a considerable degree, this process is already under way with some of the milestones already attained under the New Partnership for Africa s Development (Nepad) Short Term Action Plan such as:
* The acceleration of the Trans Kalahari Corridor between South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana which is key to the integration of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region. With this project, preliminary work is already underway to begin the exploration of the economic and financial feasibility of the rail line between Gobabis in eastern Namibia across the Kalahari to the Botswana Railways network joining South Africa.
* The Maputo Case Flow Management (CFM) and South Africa's Transnet Freight Rail have also formed a strong relationship with a view to strengthening ties and operations along the Ressano-Garcia corridor route.
* Talks with Lesotho have already started with the long-term goal to establish a railway line linking Lesotho with the port of Durban and Port Elizabeth. This is in line with the Almaty programme of action to improve connectivity and access for landlocked countries.
* Nepad is also supporting the concession of railways in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia and Swaziland in the form of technical assistance, regulatory capacity building as well as the provision of transaction advisory. Some of the projects include the physical rehabilitation of railways, such as:
* Malaba, Kampala railway
* Port Bell and Jinja wagon ferry terminals rehabilitation
* Nakuru, Kisumu rail section rehabilitation
* Dodoma, Tabora Mwanza: track rehabilitation and upgrading of signalling systems, as well as
* the Nacala Corridor Railway.
In addition, there are feasibility studies being undertaken for:
* railways interconnection for West and Central Africa
* Brazzaville – Kinshasa rail/road bridge
* the rehabilitation of the Benguela Railway Corridor system between Angola and Democratic Republic Congo (DRC).
All these projects are a clear indication that we have made a good start but what we have to do is to put flesh onto these bones. Our fundamental goals for rail in Africa must support economic integration and meet the basic needs of our people. And our key strategic challenges that must be met to achieve these goals must speak to:
* a strong harmonisation and rationalisation of Africa cross-border rail transport and trade regulations
* improvements to border post management systems
* encouragement of increase in joint ventures in rail infrastructure, and
* stronger investments in rail infrastructure, using a corridor approach.
The future of the African Railways must also address the issue of Africa’s competitiveness in the global trade context as well as Africa’s intra-competitiveness.
For Africa to achieve global competitiveness, we must make sure that the Pan-African Railway network becomes a reality in order to achieve integration, interoperability and interconnection.
Therefore, the title of this conference, "Interconnection, Interoperability and Complementarily of African Railway Networks," talks to what must be at the heart of the Pan-African Railway Network. You must therefore keep in mind that when you close this conference tomorrow, a clear plan that must form part of the Nepad infrastructure agenda must be adopted and forwarded to the African Union for submission to Nepad as a base for transport infrastructure funding.
Let me outline for your consideration some of the drastic steps that have to be undertaken to energise you into moving these processes at a rapid pace:
* There is an urgent need for the establishment of Country based Rail Commuter and Freight Forums in order to cater for equitable dual use of rail for both passengers and freight.
* We have to undertake an all encompassing audit of rail operations throughout Africa in order to unravel the nuts and bolts of our rail operations.
* Africa needs stronger rail economic regulatory mechanisms to ensure the separation of ownership of infrastructure from operations.
* There also has to be a coordination of operating and technical practices of rail service providers and the developing of benchmarks for service standards and maintenance of infrastructure and equipment.
* There has to be strong knowledge sharing for exchange of ideas, expertise and information towards joint problem solving and the maximisation of rail transport efficiency.
These are all huge areas that present massive challenges for Africa's future. The opportunities are there and I am confident that if we work together we can deliver what is needed. We are therefore looking at rail as a facilitator of trade in Africa, but also as an initiator and instigator of economic development in Africa.
As South Africa, we have particularly embarked on a number of information systems projects that may help shape and inform how Africa develops its information databases and databanks particularly to facilitate trade and economic development.
We have established the National Freight Information Systems in order to integrate all existing information systems into a single information system that will house all freight information in the Republic of South Africa.
We have embarked on the preparation of a National Transport Master-plan 2050 and have also established a Freight Databank that consolidates all cargo statistics into one single databank so as to develop origin and destination pairs and to provide cargo owners and service providers with cheaper routes options.
We have established the National Corridor? Performance Platform Measurement (NCPM) in order to measure performance of various supply chains in the identified corridors. Lastly and most importantly, we have successfully established the Rail Safety Regulator in order to promote safe railway operations and to facilitate a modern, flexible and efficient regulatory regime to ensure the enhancement of safe railway operations, and to promote the harmonisation of the railway safety regime in the SADC region.
I want to conclude by saying that if the future is to lead us to a different gauge, a thorough study must be undertaken to look at how it can be achieved.
It is a fact that the colonial rule was a root cause, in some African regions, of the establishment of the so-called 'cape gauge' which is today not helpful in our economic endeavours. For instance, about 17 African States have about 449 614 kilometres of the "cape gauge" with South Africa owning approximately 20 324 kilometres of this network.
In other words, the cape gauge has to a large extent successfully managed to stand in the way of integration of railway systems in Africa. I would suggest that new and future developments be considered on standard gauge and that serious work be done to estimate the cost of putting-in new networks on this gauge.
In thanking you for the invitation, I would like to express my good wishes for a successful conference. As African Ministers responsible for Rail Transport we look forward with keen anticipation to the reports and recommendations that your discussions will generate.
I thank you.
Issued by: Department of Transport
20 November 2007
Source: Department of Transport (http://www.dot.gov.za)