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Research is key to rail’s intra-African trade strategy

rails-train-path-straightRail networks in Africa must focus on research, innovation and technology if they want to facilitate intra-African trade.

This is according to deputy chairman of the International Heavy Haul Association (IHHA) and chairman of the South African Heavy Haul Association, Brian Monakali.

This and other challenges were debated at the 11th IHHA Conference held in Cape Town at the start of September under the theme “Advancing Heavy Haul Technologies and Operations in a Changing World.”

Monkali says that whilst inroads have been made by different institutions in the area of research and innovation there is still much to be done.

“A strategy that focuses on research would increase the understanding of rail ‘knowledge’ competencies, particularly due to South Africa’s position as a centre of excellence in railways in Africa,” he explains.

Transnet leading the charge

The country’s rail research and development efforts are being led by Transnet with local tertiary institutions also involved in different areas of study.

Monkai notes: “The national heavy freight rail operator has an illustrious history of innovation, which is evident in it operating the world’s longest production train that can reach up to 4km per train in length, at axle load of 30 ton per axle.”

He says countries that have successfully harnessed the power of rail, like the United States, have demonstrated the benefits that can be derived from a co-ordinated research, development and testing ecosystem.

He adds, however, that the outcomes from international research efforts cannot be applied universally because of the difference in characteristics between international rail infrastructure and South African infrastructure.

“This is why we’ve prioritised this topic for high level discussion at the conference as it was the ideal opportunity to firm up thinking around the issue to address our African rail research.”

He adds that the heavy haul principles of running longer trains can be used to promote rail interconnectivity between countries on the continent, and are a lower cost alternative to upgrading rolling stock axle loads or building new heavy haul lines.

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