Government says it will totally revamp the railway sector in two years. This will include the Western corridor rail line linking to Ivory Coast.
But how feasible is this dream of constructing over 500-kilometre rail system in less than two years?
Its been promises after promises, at first; it was the 2013 master plan by the NDC government.
The master plan proposed the construction of about 407 kilometres of new railway network across the country
The six-phase project also sought to rehabilitate existing rail lines, the extension of the central corridor, as well as the extension of the trans-ECOWAS line.
The extension of both the western and eastern corridor rail lines was also captured in the master plan.
This beautifully drafted plan was never realized, leaving the country’s rail sector in a sorry state.
Fast forward to 2017, the NPP lead government says it has what it takes to transform the railway sector under the 2020 rail sector transformation agenda.
Minister for Railway Development Joe Gartey said the transformation process has already begun.
“I have already started seeing the transformation. The managing director of the Ghana railway company has told me that in his 35 years in the rail sector, he has never seen a deal like what we concluded in South Africa.
There has never been an occasion that so many types of equipment have been brought in at the same time. 110 Wagons? No Way! he has never seen it. He is in South Africa and I have told him if he doesn’t complete the deal, he shouldn’t come back to Ghana,” Mr, Ghartey said.
The South African deal
According to the Railways Minister, Joe Gartey, Ghana is in talks with South Africa’s leading railway and ports company, Transnet International Holdings, to supply 110 wagons to the Ghana Railway Company Limited
The supply would include 22 coaches, eight locomotives; six for freight to power the wagons, two for passenger service, and another two vans with first-class kitchens.
Mr Ghartey said, “South Africa wants to enter a long-term partnership with the Ghana railway company, they want to do so many things with Ghana but we have told them we don’t have money; we will sit down with them to ensure we can pay back. I can assure you that we can’t pay or break our back.”
His deputy, Andy Appiah Kubi has also been talking tough.
He said, “Very soon we will commission a monthly railway newspaper and the draft is in my office; so by the end of next month we will launch the first ever railway journal.
The Ghana Railway School at Essikado, has also signed an MOU with the George Grant University of Mines and Technology, Tarkwa, to train personnel for the industry,” Mr Appiah kubi stated.
The development agenda
The 2020 transformation agenda would mean the construction of a 339-kilometre Western corridor project linking Takoradi and Kumasi, then the eastern corridor 218 kilometres.
Aside from the 10 wagons coming from South Africa, a joint evaluation committee on the Accra- Ouagadougou railway project has received 15 proposals from companies interested in financing the project.
From the rail lines, the university, to the newspaper, the railway Ministry seems to have a lot on its table; and all these are expected to be done in just two years.
Deputy Railway Development Minister, Andy Appiah Kubi re-emphasized government’s commitment to the 2020 transformation agenda.
He said, by the end of 2020, the government would have made significant progress in the railway sector.
“By the end of our term in 2020, construction and renovation of existing facilities would have been at an advanced stage to commission [so as] to admit students from Ghana and other parts of Africa.
Despite the pessimism from a section of the public, Mr Appiah Kubi says the Ministry is on track to achieving these goals.
“Come back to us next year and you won’t meet us in conference rooms like this; you will meet us on project site,” he added.
The current state of Ghana’s railway sector
Ghana railway sector is in shambles. From rusty coaches to weedy rail line, the sector has contributed little to the country’s GDP.
The biggest challenge of all is encroachment along railway lines.
Several attempts to relocate squatters have failed over the years and sometimes government had to pay illegal settlers instead.
The recently rehabilitated Western line to Tarkwa has already collapsed with squatters selling the trails as scraps, this is according to Joe Gartey.
“I won’t abuse people’s human right but that doesn’t mean they should encroach on properties.
They haven’t seen what is coming because we are working to clear them along rail lines for development,” he said.
Apart from the Accra-Ouagadougou project which is currently in the bidding state, it is not clear how the other projects will be funded.
Kenya’s railway development – a model for Ghana?
Kenya has been touted as one of the fastest growing railway transport countries in Africa aside from South Africa.
In early 2017, Kenya commissioned one of its biggest infrastructure projects since independence.
Current development in the country’s rail sector is expected to contribute about 1.5 percent of Kenya's GDP.
The 470km rail lines took four years to be completed with Chinese contractors and operators manning it.
The $3.8 billion infrastructure is expected to be paid within 30 to 40 years.
Experts have described Kenya as a shining example for Africa when it comes to railway development.
But if a country like Kenya took four years to construct a 472 km rail lines, it remains to be seen if this new agenda by the government is another political talk.
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