The First Edition of the International Railway Conference Abuja 2022 aimed at reverberating the need important role and impact of railway development to Africa’s socio-economic development and integration through the African Continental Free Trade Area.
The event organized by the Abuja Chamber of Commerce & Industry, in partnership with the Federal Ministry of Transportation and Africa Railway Consulting Limited was held on the 15th November 2022 at the Trade & Convention Centre, Abuja to recalibrate the significance of railway connectivity to the realization of African economic integration through African Continental Free trade Area. National governments will present rail investment opportunities. The event also had an exhibition component alongside a B2B, G2B, G2G interactive and networking opportunities.
The opening ceremony, which started at exactly 11:00am, had the presence of over 200 participants, including representatives from Ministries of Transportation in Chad, Niger, Guinea and Nigeria as well as the Representatives of FCT Ministry. Other participants include international conference presenters, private sectors investors and companies, the media and other key stakeholder participants. The event entailed robust engagement of policy makers, experts and investors across the relevant sectors.
The welcome address was given by the President Abuja Chamber of Commerce & Industry Dr Al-Mujtaba Abubakar, who thanked the partners and sponsors for their support in ensuring the success this year’s International Railway Conference. He emphasized the timeliness and significance of the conference as the state of railway development in Africa demands an urgent meeting of all critical stakeholders to brainstorm on fast tracking rail connectivity to meet the demands of African Continental Free Trade Area. He continued to indicate that Railways are a climate-smart and efficient way to move people and freight. It promotes economic growth while cutting greenhouse gas emissions. He added that Railroads are necessary to reduce transportation costs drastically, thereby making farming production for export markets profitable. “It makes transportation of heavy materials become much cheaper while also encouraging people to travel further and this meant people could move to different areas to find work.”
In addition, he noted that discourse on the AfCFTA cannot be complete without strategic attention to the role of railway in African development. According to him the AfCFTA will drive an increased demand for sustainable transportation across the continent, “The estimates on, ‘Implications of AfFCTA for demand for transport, infrastructure and services’, released by ECA at the fifth African Business Forum indicate that with AfCFTA in absolute terms, over 25 per cent of intra-African trade gains in services would go to transport alone; and nearly 40 per cent of the increase in Africa’s services production would be in transport.” He highlighted the need for the achievement of sustainable development in Africa and finally wished the participants fruitful deliberation.
In his Goodwill message, the Director of Rail Transport Services of the Federal Ministry of Transportation (Nigeria), Engr. Jimoh Adekunle Yusuf, who is also the Chairman of the Local Organizing Committee of the event, reiterated that Africa is undergoing a silent railway revolution as observed through several green and brown field rail projects are ongoing across the continent. He explicated the need for relevant stakeholders to collaborate and share experiences, expertise and future plans/projects in the African rail sector. This, he assured will expedite the achievement of a truly trans-African Railway Network as planned in the Agenda 2063 for an African Continental High Speed Railway Network.
The Remarks by the Minister of FCT, Mallam Muhammed Musa Bello was delivered by a representative. In his address, he thanked the organizers of the event for the foresight in putting together this conference and recognizing its potentials in the efforts to transform the African economy. He noted that although the Abuja Rail Mass Transit system is still in its infancy, there are bigger plans in the works to ensure its growth into becoming one of the best managed rail systems not just in our country but indeed on the continent. According to him, a business model is currently being developed to effectively harness the huge commercial potentials of the Abuja Rail Corridor. He concluded by expressing his optimizing in the outcomes and resolutions of this gathering with the belief that they will serve as a pointer to a very bright future hinged on continental collaboration and cooperation.
The Minister of Transportation, Mu’zau Jaji Sambo, ably represented by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry. explained that the theme of the Conference “Powering the AfCFTA with Sustainable Railway System” is very timely considering that Nigeria is fully committed to developing the Railway Transportation sector to provide alternative mode and also complement other modes of transportation. He reflected on the history of railway system in Nigeria, dating as far back as 1892 with full commercial services from Lagos-Ibadan in 1898, and by 1964, Nigeria had built a network of narrow-gauge rail lines totalling 3,505 Km. He identify some of the key milestones in the Nigerian Rail Sector by the current administration since 2015: Completion and operation of the the 1st and 2nd segments of Lagos – Kano Standard Gauge; Ongoing rehabilitation & reconstruction of the existing Eastern narrow gauge Rail line with extension to Bonny Deep Seaport; Ongoing Construction of double track standard gauge railway from Kaduna ~Kano which is the 77 segment of Lagos ~ Kano railway project; construction of the Kano – Maradi (Niger Republic) Standard Gauge railway with a branch line from Kano to Dutse; and many more. In addition to these, no fewer than 6 routes are currently being proposed for future development. He however, noted that financing these projects are the main obstacles to the attainment of these goals.
This was followed by the sharing of National Railway Experiences by the delegates from Republic of Chad and Guinea. In her remarks, the Deputy Director-General of Guinea’s National Railway Agency (Societe Nationale des Chemins de fer de Guinee, SNCFG), Madam Rose Kasso TINGUIANO recounted some of the major challenges in the Guniean railway sector. For example, with a network almost 1,300 km of standard metrical gauge line in Guinea, 662 are in deteriorated conditions. This includes an additional 4 lines dedicated for the transportation of mineral resources such as gold, diamond, Baltic, copper and many more, which are in abundance throughout the country. According to Tinguiano, the transitional government in Guinea is undertaken 650km line to connect of Simadou Iron site, considered as the biggest iron ore deposits in Africa to various markets across the country and beyond. In addition to this, she announced that the governments of Guinea and Mali recently launched the reconstruction project of Conakry-Kankan-Bamako line as part of ECOWAS recommendations to deepen the economic integration of the region. However, she explained that these plans are hindered by limited resources by both nations and urged the technical and financial partners at the conference to join the parties for the realization of this sub-regional railway corridor.
In the second session of the event, prominent speakers from the international communities and industry experts made presentations to the participants. In his presentation, Prof. Dr. Andrea Giuricin of University Southern California and CEO of TRA Consulting proposed the Ideal Railway Reform Model for Africa. He juxtaposed the enormous contribution which effective rail systems has in the economic prosperity and integration amongst the EU countries. In noted that the average revenue per KM travel for a train in Europe is € 21,23. He noted that, in order to achieve maximum efficiency and profitability of a rail system, African Railway authorities should take into consideration three variables: Speed, Weight and Traction. He concluded stating the importance of clarity in the roles the infrastructure managers in their railway projects while learning from the mistakes of others.
This was followed by the presentation by Dr Marcelo Blumenfeld, who explained that decarbonization is a pressing requirement to all countries, including those in the low income and lower middle-income brackets. He however noted that due to the high costs associated with electrification, alternative traction systems are likely to be required in many routes. According to him, retrofitting existing assets in Africa can support decarbonization in a range of lines in the region, in a cost-effective manner.
In the final session of the conference, a group of panelists cutting across various related sectors discussed the Building of Railways as Backbone for the AfCFTA. During the Panel Session, Secretary General, Nigerian Union of Railway Workers (NUR), Comrade Segun Esan, commended the efforts of the Nigerian Government in delivering rail infrastructure. He however expressed dissatisfaction in the working conditions rail workers are subjected to. In his words, “there are three components of achieving a successful rail system in the country. These are: Man, Machines and Money. Without the human capital component, any investment in infrastructure is bound to fail.” He advised the authorities to prioritize the concerns of the union as obtainable in other jurisdictions. Concerning the difference in the track systems across the country and the continent, the Dean of Faculty of Engineering in the University of Abuja, Professor Toochukwu Ogwueleka emphasized the need to standardize the railway tracks on the continent. He noted that the disparity in the current systems makes it difficult for many trains to use some tracks. He explained that there are two tracks system common across Africa: Narrow gauge and Standard gauge lines. Unless there is a common track system, many trains cannot use international tracks. In his remark, the Director of Rail Transport at the Federal Capital Development Agency, highlighted some of the progress the FCT administration have made in the rail sector such as the Abuja Rail Mass Transit Rail which has operated since 2019. He noted that the project is the first rapid transit system in the country and in West Africa and the second such system in sub-Saharan Africa. He also cited other similar projects across the country and urged participants at the conference to take a cue from the initiatives and use take a tour of some of these projects during their stay in Abuja. The General Manager of Team Nigeria Limited, underpinned the importance of capacity building of rail workers and imbibing a strong culture maintenance of rail facilities in Africa. He further described the roles which Railway engineering firms must play in ensuring these factors are secured. Citing TEAM Nigeria Ltd, as an example, he enumerated his firm’s commitment to supporting the development of its local workforce. According to him, 90% of its Nigerian Team are locally sourced and are subjected to regular upskilling, training and capacity development. In addition, he encouraged champions of in African rail projects to carry along diverse stakeholders in their development and implementation strategies. This will help define the needs assessment and minimize wastage in redundant projects.
In his submission, the MD of Veritas Kapital Assurance, Mr. Kenneth Edore Egbaran, clarified to the panelists that insurance coverage for potential investors in the railway sector does not cover the investment funding or financing of the rail project but however, firms involved in rail projects are advised to subscribe to certain insurance schemes to mitigate risks.
This was followed up by questions and answers, which was presided by the Moderator of that Session. Questions were centered on the unbundling of the rail sector in Nigeria and updates on some rail projects across the continent.
The Conference was brought to a close at 03:00pm with closing remarks given by the Director, National Chamber Policy Centre, Mr. Olawale Rasheed. After that, participants proceeded for lunch. The first day of the Conference.
In the course of the Conference, the following resolutions were deduced by the participants of the event:
- Railways are amongst the most efficient means of transporting cargo, particular to the benefit of the hinterland states.
- There are 16 landlocked countries in Africa without direct links to seaports but whose trade relies on alternative intermodal systems, majorly roads and rail.
- The use of railroads can greatly decrease transportation costs, especially for businesses in local areas, thereby making farming production for export markets profitable.
- Rail transportation makes transportation of heavy materials become much cheaper while also encouraging people to travel further and this meant people could move to different areas to find work.
- The Success of the AfCFTA can be amplified through a network of highspeed railway systems on the continent.
- Many African nations have now recognized the importance of an effective rail systems and are undertaken various steps to develop rail systems.
- Financing rail projects remain one of the major hurdles in railway development in Africa.
- The technical know-how amongst local engineers across the continent are insufficient.
- Insecurity remains a major threat to rail infrastructure in Africa and discourages private investors to the sector.
In light of the above resolutions, the following recommendations were proposed.
- African governments must deepen their collaboration and commitment in developing railway systems in Africa.
- To address issues of rail project financing, injection of institutional or private Investor’s fund has to be contemplated either in form of direct foreign or focal investment on PPP basis or through concessionary or commercial loans.
- Beyond building Infrastructure, governments must invest in capacity building and promote knowledge transfer for rail workers and techicians.
- Railway Infrastructure managers need to adopt international best practices in managing facilities in order to achieve profitability of investments and sustainability.
- Railway Authorities must analyze risks and employ technology in monitoring tracks and maintaining facilities.
- Government policies should focus on creating enabling environment to attract more private sector investment in railway systems.
- In contractual arrangement, African governments should set up provisions that promote knowledge transfer for local technicians.
- When developing rail projects, African leaders must engage all stakeholders before implementation.