Independent railway industry body, the RailRoad Association (RRA), has rebranded itself as the African Rail Industry Association (Aria) as it positions itself to play a greater role in revitalising the local and continental rail sector and supporting the new African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
“A thriving rail sector will play a key role in achieving AfCFTA’s goals,” says Aria chief executive officer Mesela Nhlapo. “However, while there has been significant investment in Africa’s rail infrastructure in recent years, state-owned rail companies, industry and the private sector are going to have to work together to make the industry more relevant and tap into rail’s ability to unlock economic growth.
Nhlapo says President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement last year that South Africa’s rail network would be opened to third-party operators was a ‘major step forward’ for the industry and could lead the way for the rest of the continent while creating thousands of jobs and driving significant economic benefits.
Granting third-party access to the core rail network within the next 12 months is a key element of the Economic Recovery Plan presented by President Ramaphosa on October 15 last year, says Nhlapo. “Under this policy, private freight rail operators will be allowed to operate on the state-owned rail infrastructure alongside Transnet. Open access will be complementary to Transnet which stands to benefit significantly from new revenue streams.”
Nhlapo adds that opening the rail network to third-party operators will unlock ‘billions’ of rands in industry investments almost immediately.