Participants at the African Union Development Agency-NEPAD (AUDA-NEPAD) webinar on Africa’s Integrated High Speed Railway Network Project (AIHSRN), Wednesday called on African leaders to fast-track the implementation of the continental high-speed rail network.
AIHSRN seeks to facilitate the movement of goods, services and people as well as reducing transport costs and congestion through increased rail connectivity, while AfCFTA is aimed at creating a single continental market for goods and services on the continent. Both AIHSRN and AfCFTA are among the 12 flagship projects of Agenda 2063 – AU’s strategic framework for socio-economic transformation of Africa.
The high-speed railway network is also part of projects under the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA), Agenda 2063’s key strategic framework for the development of continental infrastructure, adopted by the African Heads of State and Government in 2012, as the continental strategic infrastructure framework set to run until 2040.
AU High Representative for Infrastructure Development in Africa Mr Raila Odinga, who chaired the webinar challenged Africa’s leadership to put its money where its mouth is, stressing, “If Europe and North America could transform their railway systems in the time they did, Africa can even do better now.”
Mr Odinga, who acknowledged the many ongoing railway projects in Africa urged African leaders to speed up the high-speed railway project. While speaking about the AfCFTA, whose implementation is set to commence January 1, 2021, the Kenyan politician said transport logistics and interconnectivity were critical to the success of the landmark agreement.
Mr Cheikh Bedda, director of infrastructure and energy at the AU Commission noted the strategic importance of the high-speed rail network to Africa’s development, assuring the meeting participants of the Commission’s readiness to push ahead with the implementation process, despite the disruption occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The high-speed railway project is expected to be a key driver of economic development in Africa, by linking landlocked African countries to seaports, African capitals, Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and industrial parks, according to AUDA-NEPAD. The project seeks to complement other infrastructure-related development projects of the AU such as the Trans-Africa Highway (TAH) network and the Action Plan for Accelerated Industrial Development for Africa (AIDA).
Most African railway lines are built within national boundaries and on different gauges thus the lack of efficient railway connectivity on the continent. Consequently, the four main objectives of AIHSRN are; first, economic and physical integration of the continent; second, connecting various regions of Africa by creating East-West and North-South land-bridges. The third objective is establishing the Trans-Africa beltways as an alternative to marine transport; and fourth, connecting major commercial and economic hubs to boost economic growth and intra-African free trade.
The AU plans to meet the first three objectives by 2033 while the fourth objective by 2043; the Dar es Salaam-Kigali link combined with the Kampala-Kigali-Bujumbura as well as the Walvis Bay-Windhoek-Gaborone-Pretoria link, have been identified as pilots for accelerated development. Ten other high-speed railway projects across the continent have been identified as priority projects.
Amongst others, the webinar participants recommended the shortening of the implementation timetable for the high-speed railway project; fast-tracking of ratification of the Luxembourg Rail Protocol for rolling stock acquisition; and engagement of African private sector in the project. Others were the need to create an African railway standard; enforcement of localisation to boost job creation as well as the urgent need to explore African financing, leveraging sovereign wealth and pension funds, among other financing opportunities.
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