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Development of Ghana’s railway sector - A non-starter?

BY: Ing J.A.Y. Gordon

Where is our nation headed as Ghana rebuilds the 1896 colonial ‘go slow’ railway in today’s digital jet-age of the bullet train?

I wish to draw the attention of the President and his government to the three basic principles which are fundamental to any and all successful railway transportation systems.

These three basic principles are: (i) The railway gauge (ii) The starting or final transfer point.

(iii) The management/organisational structure.

Nigeria (2013), Ethiopia (2015) and Kenya (2017) have passed on all three points and their high-speed trains are running, while Ghana’s failures are detailed as follows:

(I) The Railway Gauge

The narrow gauge (NG), i.e. 3’6’’ or 1067mm railway, operates at a maximum speed of 50km/hr with a maximum pay load of 30 trucks or 1,800 tonnes per trip.

The standard gauge (SG), i.e. 4’ 8½’’ or 1435mm operates at a maximum speed of 160km/hr with a payload of 50 trucks or 3,000 tonnes per trip.

These two gauges have nothing in common and must necessarily operate independently.

Ghana is, therefore, faced with either rehabilitating the old NG system correctly or surveying, designing and constructing the SG railway to replace the old, using the same land previously acquired for the railway.

Although the Ghana Railway Development Authority (GRDA) invited bids for the construction of SG 1435mm rail lines in various parts of the country (Enquirer of August 18/19 2010),the rail lines which have been subsequently constructed, are all narrow gauge 1067mm).

These newly constructed NG rail lines have already failed as the Accra- Achimota-Tema service has shut down after the derailment of the Diesel Multiple Unit. A set of coaches have also fallen off the rails.

New developments

The eastern corridor railway, i.e. Tema-Ho-Kete Krachi-Kulungugu, has been started by the GRDA, but Mr President, the project is a non-starter as the first railway station located at Mpakadan cannot be linked by rail, as there is no bridge over the Volta.

The railway lines are narrow gauge, and our nation will only be a laughing stock of the railway community. The alternative infrastructure to opening up the eastern corridor can be achieved by constructing the rail lines (SG) of Tema- Akosombo-Buipe multi-modal transport system and by constructing ports along the eastern bank of the Volta Lake and connecting same to the eastern corridor road which has been under construction for the last fifty (50) years.

(ii) Starting or final transfer point

The railway is meant to facilitate international trade and, therefore, must necessarily begin or end at a point in the ocean (sea) where the ship and the railway track (ground) meet.

This meeting/transfer point must meet exact engineering specifications of the railway system such that goods or containers can be discharged or transferred from ship directly onto the railway thus ensuring the smooth evacuation or loading of ships by rail. This essential non-negotiable condition has never been fulfilled by the Ghana Port and Harbour Authority (GPHA) and, therefore, evacuation of containers by rail has never taken place in Ghana’s ports.

Please note that:

(i) Nigeria resumed the evacuation of containers by rail from APM Terminals,
Apapa using the Apapa-Kano and Kaduna (SG) railway system in August 2013.

(ii) Ethiopia’s electric train was launched in 2015 when the Djibouti-Addis Ababa SG railway system was inaugurated. Ninety per cent of Ethiopia’s imports/exports go through the Djibouti Port.

(iii) Kenya’s SG railway services were inaugurated in May 2017 on the Mombasa–Nairobi railway track. Both Kenyan and Ethiopian railways were financed by the China Development Bank (CDB). Ghana has not been able to access a portion of the three-billion-US Dollar loan for the rehabilitation of the Western Corridor Railway as our proposals have failed on all three points listed above.

APM Terminals, one of the investors/partners in the Meridian Port Services (MPS). GPHA project actually built the rail line under the supervision of the Nigeria Railway Corporation, NRC (The developer, operator and regulator of the Nigerian railway system) into its APM Terminal in Apapa and evacuation of containers by rail from its terminal resumed in August 2013 after a 16-year suspension of rail services.

The ongoing 1.5-billion-US Dollar ‘Port Expansion’ project at the Tema Port is actually an entirely new harbour being undertaken by MPS/GPHA and has been mischievously mislabelled as ‘port expansion’ to mislead the public as the said final product will have no railway and must necessarily depend on the already choked road outlets which service the old or existing Tema Main Harbour. This new harbour is, therefore, a failed project as the evacuation of containers by road is not sustainable.

(iii) The management / organisational structure

The management of our railway system has been split into (a) Ghana Railway Corporation (GRC) - the operator (b) The GRDA – the developer and regulator.

I have heard the Minister of Railways state that the regulatory function currently being performed by the GRDA is not smooth and has, therefore, proposed that a new regulatory body be established when the relevant legislation is passed by Parliament.

Are there any lessons that our nation can learn from the Nigerian, Ethiopian and Kenyan experience?

Our nation has also ordered 110 pieces of rolling stock (i.e. locomotives, coaches, trucks etc.). These, I can assure you, Mr President, are off specification as the correct specification for our NG railway rolling stock can be found only in the drawing office of the Chief Mechanical Engineer’s (CME’s) department in Sekondi. This is in the custody of the operator (GRC) while the developer (GRDA) is making the wrong orders out of IGNORANCE. How long can we allow this mess to continue?