Rail investment essential for success of Africa free trade ideal - Bombardier

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Getty Images

Perhaps the most pressing requirement to improve economy in Africa is the need for better transportation links between states, particularly in the form of rail networks, according to Aubrey Lekwane, managing director, South Africa of Bombardier Transportation.
 
He says the EU model reflects just how important it is to remove non-tariff barriers to trade.

He refers to a May 2019 report by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), non-tariff barriers in Africa are high "and represent a critical obstacle to trade". The IMF says a reduction in ground transportation costs is "especially critical" to encouraging intra-regional trade and making a success of African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
 
The development of a comprehensive African rail network is the single biggest opportunity in that regard, in his view.

"A reliable rail network would allow for the efficient movement of goods, businesspeople and tourists across the continent, while also improving Africa’s links to the rest of the world, particularly the continent's landlocked nations," he says.

"Rail is also a sustainable solution given that it is far more environmentally friendly than road and air transport – Africa's natural environment is one of its greatest assets, and it must be protected. Rail investments stimulate economies while reducing carbon emissions and urban congestion – a major issue and growth impediment in many African cities."
 
As Africa is making investments in rail industry, green transportation and sustainable mobility should be a priority, he emphasised.

Backed by new regulations and environmental groups, the global trend towards greener forms of transport is affecting multiple industries including the rail industry.
 
Several alternatives to diesel trains are currently being developed worldwide including hydrogen fuel cells in trains, battery-powered locomotives and liquefied natural gas as an option for dual-fuel locomotives.
 
"In South Africa nearly 90% of freight is moved by road, for example. This overreliance means that SA's roads need to be constantly repaired while traffic congestion worsens in the face of urbanisation," he says.
 
"South Africa also has an opportunity to become a major rail manufacturing hub as the continent invests in railway infrastructure, including new trains, signalling systems and general maintenance."

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