With the inaugural Urban Rail Africa conference being held in December, we had the opportunity to chat with rail industry leaders Dave van der Meulen, Managing Member, Railway Corporate Strategyand Leonard Ejimogu, Executive Director (projects) Transurb to hear their thoughts on the work that is required to realise the vision of world-class passenger services and urban connectivity across Africa.
In your view, what are the issues that need addressing as an immediate priority to further the growing significance of urban rail in Africa?
Dave van der Meulen: Developing a generic model to understand the socio-economic
benefits of urban rail, and how to migrate from the present loosely structured (bus, minibus and tuk-tuk) public transport arrangements to guided urban transit, possibly with bus rapid transit as a way station, followed by light or heavy metro. And, to develop the capacity within local authorities to deeply understand the implications of a transition to a guided transport mode.
Leonard Ejimogu: Firstly, we need to look at ways of funding projects. Railways are heavy infrastructure projects, therefore most African government do not have the funds available to finance them. Also politics – Determining which city needs the railway is often very political even when it is evidence supported by statistics.
What are the long term goals– Where should we aim to be in 20 years?
Dave van der Meulen: Currently eleven African cities or agglomerations (Abuja, Alexandria, Algiers, Cairo, Cape Town, Constantine, Ekurhuleni + Johannesburg + Tshwane, eThekwini, Lagos, Oran, and Tunis) already have, or are constructing, some sort of urban rail service (heavy metro, light rail, and/or suburban).
Two drivers seem significant, per capita income, and population size. Over the next twenty years economic growth would likely add Casablanca, Marrakech, and Rabat, while population growth would likely add Abidjan, Addis Ababa, Dar es Salaam, Khartoum, Kinshasa, Nairobi, and Luanda. Almost doubling the number of African cities with urban rail would indicate that urban transport planning in candidate cities should already now include a rail element.
Leonard Ejimogu: The provision of infrastructure such as electricity which is necessary to support modern railway technology.
What are the challenges ahead?
Dave van der Meulen: Funding will be a major challenge, particularly in cities where the need for a rail based public transport solution is driven by population growth but economic growth has lagged behind that. Undue political interference could also turn out to be a major challenge, and may obstruct or delay material progress.
Leonard Ejimogu: Legislation – In some countries, legislation needs to be changed to allow state and private sector to invest in railway development. Secondly, Corruption-Corruption-Corruption!!!!
Dave van der Meulen will be delivering a presentation entitled “Theoretical drivers and practical fit of urban rail in Africa’s developing economy” at Urban Rail Africa 2013 on December 10-11 at The Westin, Cape Town. While Leonard Ejimoju will share a project update on the construction of Nigeria’s light rail systems.