It is time for South Africa to talk seriously about rail

As President Ramaphosa pointed out in his presentation of the Plan for Economic Reconstruction and Reconstruction (ERRP) to Parliament last October, rail is at the heart of the revitalization of the South African economy.

AUTHOR: Mesela Nhlapo, CEO of the African Rail Industry Association

Indeed, the government’s move to introduce third party access to the country’s rail network is one of the major policy developments in recent years.

Finance Minister Tito Mboweni is clear: the railways have been supporting the economy for decades. When it comes to repairing or replacing infrastructure, partnerships with the private sector and other stakeholders are essential.

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Rail has long been the backbone of the South African logistics and transportation value chain and is becoming even more important in a post-COVID-19 environment. It is cheaper, cleaner and more efficient than road transport and is suitable for transporting cargo in a hygienic environment with minimal contact.

We believe the arguments in favor of rail are clear and convincing. Rail remains the best option for moving goods such as grain, automotive components, as well as fully built wagon units and minerals.

It will reduce road congestion and free up our roads for the transport of commuter traffic and sensitive cargo such as perishable and refrigerated goods.

Rail infrastructure has been a neglected area for infrastructure investments for decades. In areas such as energy, where new power plants were being built, the company lagged behind and had to compete with other infrastructure sectors for investments.

In the meantime, the continent is looking for guidance in South Africa. At the 24th Ordinary Meeting of the African Union in Addis Ababa in 2015, South Africa was identified as a hub for the manufacture of railway and rail vehicles.

The formation and operationalization of the African continental free trade agreement of the African (AfCFTA) requires full support to support a dynamic rail sector. It is time for us to lead.

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In the African Association of the Railway Industry (ARIA) we are busy tasking the government with resuming an overdue talk about rail infrastructure.

ARIA represents a number of stakeholders in the rail industry, including original equipment manufacturers, manufacturers of rail components, operators and service providers.

ARIA’s proposal is to create a formal structure, the Rail Advisory Committee (RAC), which will bring together the rail industry, government, development and private finance community, as well as the workforce and fraternity development.

The RAC would support government efforts to shape policy and legislation to guide rail development and safety standards. It would address legacy issues affecting the size and structure of the railway industry in South Africa and barriers to the growth of the industry.

It would intensify Transnet and the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa(PRASA) Ability to drive economic growth and transformation. This would help make third party cargo access to Transnet’s network, which is a key element in the government’s economic recovery, to become a reality.

It is time to bring everyone to the table so that our rail industry drives our economy forward. It’s a conversation we can’t afford to delay.

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