President of the Southern African Railways Association (SARA), Hishaam Emeran, has called on the African continent to harness the potential of rail as it has a critical role to play in growing the economy and creating jobs.

“We must harness rail’s potential on the continent and in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) by embarking on ambitious programmes that will expand the role of both passenger and freight rail.

These systems have the potential to contribute to our continent’s socio-economic prosperity,” Emeran said on Thursday.

Addressing the Africa Rail 2024 Conference at the Sandton Convention Centre, he said investment in modern rail infrastructure could radically improve efficiencies in the sphere of moving of goods and people.

Emeran, who is also the Chief Executive Officer (GCEO) at the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA), said fixing and upgrading rail is an important goal, given the burden that Africa’s roads carry.

“There is excellent work being done in the logistics space, driven in South Africa by the Presidency.

Our transport networks must receive this level of priority because the economic and social costs of a failing rail system, and that of the congested roads we see across the continent, far outweighs the costs of improving and modernising our railway network.

“Also given the high levels of unemployment across much of the continent, affordable, safe and reliable public transport, with rail as the backbone, is critical,” he said.

In 2023, the South African government established the National Logistics Crisis Committee (NLCC), which is chaired by the Presidency and brings together all of the relevant government departments to drive a coordinated response to the logistics challenges.

The committee has achieved steady progress. The Freight Logistics Roadmap was approved by Cabinet, enabling urgent reforms in the freight logistics sector.

A crucial reform is the development of a Network Statement, which sets out the process for rail operators to access the network. A draft statement was released for public comment.

The Freight Logistics Roadmap outlines a range of actions required to restore the efficiency and competitiveness of key industry supply chains, as well as ports and rail more generally.

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