Limult Railway Development

In most of the Sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries railways have played, throughout history, a key part in the economic development maintaining a dominant role in transporting freight and passengers at low costs. During the last 50 years, the road transport in the region as throughout the world has expanded rapidly due to the aggressive development of the automobile industry. African governments have invested mainly in road infrastructure improvement, neglecting railways. The liberalization in road transport and the slow response of railways to adapt to the new market conditions resulted in dramatic traffic decline in rail transport. By 1990 most of the Sub-Saharan African railways were in virtual bankruptcy, requiring permanent cash injection and large investments in infrastructure and rolling stock. To address the crisis, many governments have considered concessions as a solution, and between the mid-1990s and 2010 most of the railways were concessioned. Currently, more than 70 percent of the rail transport activities in the region (excluding South Africa) are managed by private operators. The World Bank Group (IDA and IFC) has supported most concession processes through grants and loans, investing since 1996 more than one billion dollars to support the efforts of the governments and private operators. The recommendations suggested in the present document are based on a comprehensive approach for improving the performance of the railway sector in parallel with the enhancement of the governance of the transport sector. The rhythm of implementation of such a complex set of recommendations may vary from country to country depending on local conditions and will require, in any case, a long period of time. Nevertheless, the dramatic status of the railway transport sector in SSA requires rapid actions. In this respect, the present work includes a selected list of most urgent recommendations to be implemented in the first stage. The way ahead for improving the performance of railways in Sub-Saharan Africa is a complex endeavor that cannot be achieved without the strong involvement of the private sector.

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