Rail upgrade costs headache

…SARA seeks remedies to rehabilitate regional network

By Hilary Mare

FACED with investment requirements of up N$15 billion to rehabilitate the national rail network to competitive standards, Government has called on industry stakeholders to come up with innovative ways of remaining a relevant market player and retaining market share.

This was affirmed by Works and Transport Minister, John Mutorwa at a Southern African Railways Association (SARA) board meeting held in Windhoek last week where members of the Board also noted the need for hefty investments in each member state as one of the key issues that there were seized with.

According to SARA, to develop the railway network of the region, each country needs N$295.2 million.

Among its many challenges, the rail industry in the SADC Region suffers from a huge backlog in maintenance and rehabilitation of infrastructure and rolling stock, which require significant capital investment. Furthermore, expensive and non-availability of railway spares, parts and consumables require good management and sourcing of inventory. There is also an increasing loss of market share due to increased competition from the road trucking industry.

“While competition is generally a good business phenomenon, it also brings with it, the challenge for continuous research and development. Continuous capacity building for appropriate succession and sustainability of operations is therefore a prime requirement,” Mutorwa said.

Confidente understands that the industry also faces disjointed regional railway operations among the operators.

“The interconnectivity of the regional railways can only be optimised as an opportunity for enhanced trade logistics if, we have harmonized operations and, in my view, this is the real bread and butter of your Association,” Mutorwa told the SARA Board.

SARA’s fundamental and main objective is to bring about fair intermodal competition, among surface transport modes, through lobbying for surface policy shift to promote intermodal equity, between road and rail. This objective provides a means for the railways to improve their efficiency, effectiveness of operations and, sets the course to be followed by SARA, towards meeting its objectives in pursuit of its mandate.

In appropriately responding to the ever-changing  business environment, SARA has had to undergo a radical shift from its primary focus, being advocacy for levelling of the playing field, between railways and roads, to pro-active and constructive regional action, for increased freight market share, resource mobilization, action for infrastructure development and improved operational efficiency as well as engaging in strategic collaboration and alliances, with international cooperating partners for technical and financial support .“ The  broadening  of  the  scope  of  SARA  also  necessitated  a restructuring of the Association, to effectively undertake its broadened mandate. SARA has therefore been repositioned to effectively collaborate with its stakeholders!  Regional Economic Communities and the International Development Partners (Dips) for enhancement of railway transport services at Regional Continental and Global levels.”

SARA has crafted its 2018-2022 Regional Strategic Plan through a broad consultative process of stakeholders and using contemporary methods for situation analysis, forecasting and financial modelling. The Five Year Regional Strategic Plan identifies priority business focus areas for SARA over the next 5 years and forms the basis of engagement with policy makers and other collaborating partners. The Strategic Plan further provides the basis upon which the Association will assess its performance in relation to its set objectives.

“Like with most of the other Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries, the role that railways have and continue to play in the economic and social development of Countries needs to be obvious to all. The current demands of our Regional economies and the nature of our interdependence and Regional trade demands, more than ever before, need efficient rail transport delivery systems. In this regard, SARA’s agenda is particularly significant for the socio­ economic development of all the SADC Countries,” Mutorwa further remarked.