South Africa’s transport infrastructure has for too long been poorly funded and skewed towards overburdened road networks. Upgrading it for future mobility, and using financial innovation to embrace rail’s full potential will launch the country onto a rapid growth path.
This was the message from several speakers at a transport and engineering roundtable event hosted by GIBB Engineering & Architecture. The event brought together experts from the technology, construction and transport sectors to plot a vision for the transport sector.
Titled SA Transport Roadmap: 2020 and beyond, the event generated impassioned debate, and saw several stakeholders echo the call to close South Africa’s infrastructure gap to properly address demands for growth.
The calls chimed with recent pronouncements by National Treasury
The calls chimed with recent pronouncements by National Treasury that economic transformation, inclusive growth and competitiveness required substantial investments in network industries – including transport infrastructure.
“Building infrastructure is the best way to build an economy that thrives,”
said keynote speaker Fana Morutla, Head Of Business Development and Transportation at GIBB.
“A functioning economy is built on four pillars – an educated workforce, funding, exportable goods, and a healthy workforce that can deliver this. A dynamic infrastructure sector can support all of these pillars.”
Morutla called for an accelerated programme of substantial investment in rail infrastructure. He noted that future-fitting our rail infrastructure would enable significant economic leaps.
“Large rail projects can be a key part of this – for instance high-speed intercity rail lines, urban commuter rail and full-strength heavy-haul, container double-stacking networks,”
“This is the time to dream big! To aspire to be world class with ambitious engineering projects.”
Fellow speaker Victor Radebe, Founder and Executive Director of the Africa Mobility Centre, underlined the need for rapid innovation in transport and mobility and integrated, aligned thinking across sectors and industries if African cities were to compete globally and not be left behind.
“Across the continent, we are facing rapid urbanisation,”
“We need innovative thinking, but we also need to consult all stakeholders – especially the minibus taxi associations, which transport 70% of South African commuters. There is great work being done to use technology to make their services more efficient and to integrate them with other modes of transport.”
Mesela Nhlapo, CEO of the Rail Road Association, called for business to take a continental perspective, and for infrastructure policy to help enable that.
“Africa is poised to become the world’s largest integrated economic bloc,” she said. “We have beautiful infrastructural policies – we need to bring them to life through effective implementation.”
We need to discuss whether rail companies really need to purchase their own rolling stock
She also called for innovative financial models to optimise the efficiency of the country’s transport system.
“We need to discuss whether rail companies really need to purchase their own rolling stock,”
“In the airline industry, most fleets are leased. Different business models are being used, and we need to evaluate which would be most effective.”
“The open access and adoption of Rail protocol to the Cape Town Convention will stimulate the industry,”
she said. She echoed the call to government to work with private sector to transform and integrate the African continent.
Acting Project Director of Capital Projects at Transnet Shraveen Ramdhar pointed out that rail as a catalytic infrastructure that supported the development of other transport modes and sectors of the economy, but that efficiency was essential.
“The changing global market requires shorter turnarounds, lower costs and higher quality. The best way to achieve this is through better business integration, while also increasing multi-modal partnerships. Rail, road, ports and terminals have to work together sustainably to address these needs.”
Policy called for long freight corridors from Gauteng to other urban centres
He noted that government rail policy called for long freight corridors from Gauteng to other urban centres, and that these were already being established, with the Ethekweni route being significantly upgraded and new solutions being devised in collaboration with the agricultural sector.
South Africa faces a significant backlog in road maintenance and rehabilitation, with research suggesting most of the network is already older that its 20-year design lifespan.
Several speakers at the event outlined a vision for a more diversified transport and mobility mix for the country, lightening the load on the country’s overburdened road network, and boosting the economy through a massive investment in infrastructure spending via public-private sector partnerships.