…A 123 year journey towards competitiveness
By Hilary Mare
IT has been well acknowledged that for Namibia to be part of global competitiveness with the current trend of globalisation, it has to consolidate activities relating to transport, logistics and goods distribution for both national and international transit operators.
Integral to this goal, railways in Namibia have a big potential to facilitate economic growth for the country and the SADC region at large and thus government has stepped up its efforts to create grounds for better rail development 123 years since the first rail tracks were constructed.
Earlier this year, it was reported that Government is set to spend at least N$5 billion in upgrading the country’s railway network over the next three financial years, according to the Ministry of Works and Transport budget documents.
The projects include the rehabilitation of the Southern Railway line section, Sandverhaar-Buchholbrum, the upgrading and the rehabilitation of the Auas-Luderitz Railway line extension.
Deputy Minister of Works and Transport, James Sankwasa while addressing delegates at a logistics gathering on rail as an integral part of the logistics hub last week, re-affirmed the importance of rail, adding that railways were still the preferred mode of transport for commodities in the mining, fuel as well as sulphuric acid industries to mention but a few.
“In as much as we expect TransNamib to perform, we should be cognizant that our rail infrastructure is dilapidated and the rolling stock is very old. It is crucial that railways must be supported and capacitated in order to adapt to current challenges of the logistics industry.
“Railways have inherent competitive advantages which are good for its role in the logistics hub. In rail there are three genetic technologies which distinguish rail from other transport modes: bearing, which promotes heavy axle loads; guiding, which promotes high speed and coupling, which promotes longer trains as compared to road trucks. Therefore, I encourage TransNamib to leverage on its inherent strengths as pointed out to be competitive and play its rightful role in the development of Namibia’s aspirations of a logistics hub,” Sankwasa said.
Indeed, government is cognisant of the fact that in its quest to become a logistics hub, Namibia can take a page from the landmark achievement in global railway infrastructure with the launching of what has become known as the “Silk Road on Rails – China-Europe block trains” that carry goods across the globe.
The traditional Silk Route was an ancient overland transport network operated by camel caravans between ancient centres of population and provided a link between the East and Europe. The proposal to establish a China- Europe railroad service surprised even the most experienced of rail industry players.
The China-Europe rail route is the longest in the world, spanning more than 10 000km over 6 countries including Kazakhstan, the largest landlocked country in the world. The journey time is 12 days and the trains are reported to be on schedule every time. It started off with one train per month and has increased to six per week.
“The Namibian Government has been cognisant of the fact that efficient and effective logistics and transport systems do not come overnight, and they therefore included logistics and transport in the National Development Plans NDP4 and NDP5. These plans have recognised this sector as a cornerstone in achieving competitiveness and meaningful economic growth in Namibia. Logistics and transport are seen as infrastructure services, knowledge and processes that allow for the safe movement of goods and people.
“That is why achieving an efficient logistics and transport sector has taken precedence in Namibia and many other countries across Africa. Namibia is one of the 15 African countries in the Tripartite Free Trade Agreement (TFTA) to establish a single market for the movement of people, goods and services. Although Namibia’s population is only 2.4 million, the country is positioning itself as a gateway to the more than 240 million people in the broader Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) market via the port of Walvis Bay, which is under expansion,” added Sankwasa.
Today, Namibia’s rail network consists of 2 382 route-km of tracks of 1 067 mm gauge. The main railway line runs north-south from the town of Upington in the north-western Cape, entering the country near the small border station of Nakop. A branch line goes to the small Namibian harbour of Lüderitz while the main line continues northwards through the towns of Keetmanshoop and Mariental to Windhoek, 865km from Nakop.
A second main line through Usakos and Swakopmund connects the Namibian capital of Windhoek to the country’s major port of Walvis Bay. Another branch line from Windhoek goes eastward to the livestock town of Gobabis. The essentially south west-north east spine from Walvis Bay joins the main line from the south through Windhoek at Kranzberg/Usakos junction and runs north through Otjiwarongo to the mining and farming towns of Outjo, Grootfontein and Tsumeb. The non-extension of the railway beyond Outjo, Grootfontein and Tsumeb, the northern terminals, may be an impediment to the agricultural development of the areas of the north and the north-east in the Owambo regions and the Kavango with the highest rainfalls in the country.
Notably, through the Walvis Bay corridors, the rail infrastructure and port make it suitable to serve import and export-bound sea-borne cargo. As such, the Namibian ports provide a cost-effective alternative to other trade routes in southern Africa, which operate at maximum capacity, and whose turnaround times on cargo handling depend on weather conditions.
“Namibia has realised that the role of transport and logistics have become increasingly important to accelerate the growth of the region’s economy. With a clear vision to become a regional leader in logistics and distribution in southern Africa, the focus to develop Namibia into a logistics hub should remain high priority, and as such the Walvis Bay Corridor Group (WBCG) was appointed by the government to spearhead the implementation process and developed the National Logistics Master Plan.
“Our Government has also embarked on a programme to upgrade its rail network to 18.5 to axle load in line with the SADC standards, which is a very good fit for the general freight type of traffic conveyed over its network and leverages the inherent strength of higher axle loads on rail. At the moment, approximately 45% of the Namibian rail network of 2 682 route km can accommodate only 16.5 tonne per axle and less,” further explained Sankwasa.
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015