Let’s make rail transport sustainable

BY: Daily Graphic

One of the key steps taken by the current government which will be remembered by Ghanaians for many years to come is the creation of a Ministry of Railways Development.

As a result of the creation of the ministry, and true to the government’s commitment to the sector, which hitherto had gone comatose, rail transport has not only been resuscitated but also every attempt is being made to ensure that it becomes very vibrant.

Indeed, the introduction of two weeks of free ride on the refurbished Accra-Tema line enabled many people, including those who had never experienced a train ride, to be on board the service.

However, with the commencement of actual service, there seems to be low enthusiasm and patronage, with concerns being expressed, including the flat rate of GH¢5 charged passengers who board, notwithstanding where they get off the train.

The Daily Graphic is glad that that concern is already receiving the attention of the managers of the service, but we encourage the Ghana Railway Company Limited (GRCC) to do more sensitisation on the benefits of using rail transport, especially in terms of saving time and getting to one’s destination without going through the stress of traffic.

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This is very important because most of the younger generation who have not had the chance to use that mode of transport in other countries may not appreciate its importance.

While we are at it to make many people patronise the trains as more services are added, we urge the GRCC to study best practices worldwide so far as rail transport is concerned to make that mode of transport as viable as we want it to be and also sustainable.

Rail transport comes with very huge investments because it is capital intensive — maintaining the tracks, buying or constructing coaches and stations all come at a cost. Meanwhile, most countries that have embraced rail transport do that as a public service.

This is because although large sections of their population use the service, revenue is most of the time not at par with the investment. It is for this reason that governments the world over heavily subsidise rail transport and see it as a public good, just as the provision of water and other utilities.

If we decide to run the rail service purely on commercial basis, we may end up rather making huge losses, which may take Ghana back to the dark days of rail transport.

The Daily Graphic is, however, not suggesting that the GRCC should operate at a loss. We believe that the best way forward is to consider the public and peg the price of tickets at realistic rates, so that majority of the people can afford.

With rail transport, the more people patronise, the more likely the service will survive, and so we urge the introduction of very cosy coaches and packages that will attract people to board trains everywhere they go in our cities.

While we wait for the time when we will have many lines or routes working, so that we can connect trains from different parts of our cities, we believe that for now we can at least introduce tickets or cards that can be used for a week or month or cards that can be recharged and reused when the credit or money on it is used up, as pertains in other countries.

That way, rail transport can become more convenient and fun and serve as savings for those who do not always have money for transport to work or travel for other endeavours.

This will mark the real return of the “rail romance”.