After a period of decline, Rail in the developed world has made a significant comeback to mature in a vibrant sector. With a few exceptions, Rail in Africa lag behind due to poor or even non-existence of rail maintenance and rehabilitation with the result of an outdated infrastructure – in some cases reaching a point of no return.
The poor or non-existence of rail maintenance and rehabilitation is often a result of a lack of revenue that is supposed to be derived from current rail infrastructure. The under-investment in rail infrastructure is due to the high cost and difficulty to transport goods and commodities, making this a challenging scenario for Rail operators to overcome.
As operational and maintenance costs are one of the biggest concerns for rail operators at present, rail maintenance and rehabilitation still remains an essential function for any rail operator to continue doing business. Despite financial difficulties, 60% of all investment in African Rail is being directed at maintenance and rehabilitation projects since 2015 while skills transfer, technology transfer, job creation and localisation drives these projects even more.
An example is a statement issued by South Africa’s Minister of Transport, Honourable Joe Maswanganyi, on the tabling of the Department of Transport 2017/18 Budget Vote earlier this year, where he reiterated his department’s commitment to upgrade and maintain rail infrastructure.
Nonetheless, the potential in maintaining and rehabilitating what you have and generating revenue from it in order to ultimately buy new is gaining traction and is a major consideration for many governments and operators alike.
Modern rolling stock is getting more complex to manage and the role of Big Data in making railway operations safer and in monitoring operational safety cannot be under-estimated. Furthermore, enhanced technologies for condition-based monitoring and preventative maintenance are evolving and rail operators cannot be left behind in this day and age.
It is therefore essential that Rail operators identify and partner with the right suppliers for making quick wins that will benefit operations and generate revenue, improving rehabilitation and maintenance of fleets, equipment, and infrastructure etcetera.
As part of a Transport Week initiative, the upcoming African Rail Evolution Forum, taking place in Durban 17-18 October, will address these challenges faced by the rail fraternity in Africa and will look at new ways to overcome an aged and under maintained rail eco-system.
Says Programme Director for the event, Nico Loretz: “We are very excited to present the only forum of its kind for maintenance and rehabilitation professionals in Africa.” He continues: “The event will provide key insights into emerging trends in rail maintenance and rehabilitation, confront the most pressing issues, discover solutions and debate a roadmap to put African rail back on track.”
According to Ms Ibtishaam Solomons, Business Development Manager at organiser, Hypenica Pty Ltd, the two-day forum is strategically co-located with the 6th annual African Ports Evolution Forum and Trade and Investment KwaZulu-Natal’s Export Week initiative.
Solomons continues saying: “The programme will especially be of interest to rail engineering professionals to compare best-practice case examples; to learn how other operators are managing their maintenance and rehabilitation processes and also what the impact of digitalisation and Big Data is on maintenance”.
The event will also host a packed exhibition with key solution providers from across the rail and port fraternity. Says Hypenica’s Business Development Director for Africa, Mr Richard Morrak: “The forum will unite the largest network of African port and rail authorities, port and rail operators, developers & EPCs, financiers & consultants, government & regulators, exporters and representatives from the private sector to network and do business.”
Minister Maswanganyi and Nigeria’s Minister of Transport, HE Honourable Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, will both deliver Ministerial addresses at the event.