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Rail transport regaining its allure on sustainability drive

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SGR cargo train. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Railway transport is a mature industry in the developed world that is experiencing a remarkable comeback after a period of decline.

The rediscovered allure of railways is underpinned by its capacity to haul huge volumes of freight or passengers in an energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly way.

Rail transport is nowadays being widely used in many countries in the world. Many people prefer railways over road transport because of the increase in the number of accidents and huge traffic congestions.

Growth of railway transport is, however, anchored on improved and sustainable railway infrastructure.

In the 21st Century, with the globalisation playing an increasingly important and influential role in societies and markets, development of new transport infrastructures that allow an efficient movement of passengers and goods is of utmost importance.

Railway transport has been contributing to the sustainable development of countries, both in terms of economic growth and social development. This type of transport has several advantages over others, mostly related to the fair transportation costs, lower environmental impact and safety.

Additionally, reduction in travel time due to the increase of speed, along with an improvement in passenger comfort, also contribute to the greater competitiveness of rail transport.

To achieve better performance in terms of travelling time, the railway infrastructure has grown significantly in the last decades, especially with the construction of new bridges and tunnels.

In terms of high-speed railways, for example, the necessity to ensure smoother tracks with larger curve radius has resulted in new railway lines with a high percentage of viaducts and tunnels.

Countries such as China and Japan, for example, have high speed networks in which some of the lines have more than 75 percent of viaducts. There have been developments of modern railway systems too. Some of the world best modern railway systems are:

Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway is a major public transport network consisting of heavy rail, light rail, and feeder bus service centred on an 11-line rapid transit network serving the urbanised areas of Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, and the New Territories. The other modern system is the Moscow’s Metro System, a rapid transit system serving Moscow, Russia and the neighbouring Moscow Oblast cities.

It was established at a cost estimated at 14.8 billion euros. Opened in 1935 with one 11-kilometre line and 13 stations, it was the first underground railway system in the Soviet Union.

Singapore’s Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) is a rapid transit system forming the major component of the railway system, spanning most of the city-State that was established at a cost of $1.2 billions.

The network has undergone rapid growth in accordance with Singapore’s aim of developing a comprehensive rail network as the backbone of the public transport system in that country.

Paris Metro is another modern rail system. A symbol of the city, it is known for its density within the city limits, uniform architecture and unique entrances influenced by Art Nouveau.

It is mostly underground and 214 kilometers. It has 302 stations of which 62 have transfers between lines.

In the face of increased use of railway transport system, the end goal is economic development through trade. The rise and rise of world trade volumes means road, air and rail transport are more important than ever, and all impact trade.

However, trade can only be boosted when there is essential integration of the rail, air and road transport systems.

The African continent’s rail network remains grossly underdeveloped, limiting the potential of transporting goods in bulk.

The African Union acknowledges that railway development in Africa is vital and there is an urgency to revitalise the continent’s railway network for a positive contribution to trade in African and to the world.

The Kenya Vision 2030 identifies cost-effective and world-class infrastructure as the major contributors to the improvement of national competitiveness and the quality of life of Kenyans.

Successful attainment of Vision 2030 calls for a considerable shift in the manner Kenya Railways develops railway infrastructure, mobilises and employs resources, conducts operations and taps technology to deliver on the high expectations on the railway sector by the regional economies to which the rail sector is a critical enabler.

Diaz is business leader and Brand Africa Trustee