Feature Article of Tuesday, 30 January 2007
Columnist: Bomfeh, James Kwabena
Age 50, is an enviable age that any person who really has lived a life worthy of emulation could be proud of and celebrate this occasion in such a grand style that everyone associated with him or her would wish to live same or a better life. That achievement becomes a standard for measurement. Ghana will be 50 on the 6th of March this year. Unfortunately our life as a nation is not as enviable as one would expect of a nation who at age 10 was a shining example of a nation that was on the verge of offering hope and confidence to her citizenry. The pace at which we moved towards economic independence was so swift that Ghana was always discussed as an evidence of the truism “the Blackman is capable of managing his own affairs”. One of the areas in which we have woefully misperformed is the transport sector in general and the railways in particular. The railway system has proven over the years to be a booster to economic advancement and social reconstruction. All nations that can be counted among the G8 came thus far with rails as a major contributor.
During the colonial era, Railways were constructed as a means of transport mainly for the conveyance of our resources to the port for subsequent export offshore to the home countries of the colonialists. The routes of our railways to date attest to this. The railways link Accra, Kumasi, Koforidua, Takoradi, Tarkwa, Prestea, Huni Valley etc. The intention of the colonial railways was not for the development of Ghana but for the exploitation of our resources to aid in the construction of better railways in the colonial masters homeland that will ease traffic, avoid avoidable accidents, speedy transportation and communication and thus boost the economy. It is evident today that in the UK a person can live as far as say Kintampo and be able to work in Tamale or in Accra and still work in Kumasi. People park their cars because they are assured of an alternative means of transport that is cheaper, reliable, convenient and comfortable. The sum fuel consumption of the nation is reduced because there are relatively lesser cars on the roads, plus the fact that trains can be fueled with electricity. Further more, air pollution that emanates from cars is minimized.
These are but a few of the advantages of the railway system that informed Dr. Nkrumah to purpose in the Seven Year Development Plan that; “In addition, extensions of the rail system from Awaso to Sunyani and from Shai Hills to Akosombo are planned.” Obviously these lines were to pass through to the Northern, Upper and of course Volta Regions. Sad enough, the overthrow of Nkrumah and the CPP also marked the abandoning of this lofty intent which would have saved many of the lives that have been lost to road accidents from 1970 to date on our highways; Accra – Kumasi; Accra – Aflao; Kumasi – Kintampo – Tamale; Kumasi – Sunyani etc. The memories our dear relatives and compatriots who would have been with us to date should tell us a lot about the choices we make in this nation especially as we mark age 50 and enter an election year in 2008 with regard to policies and direction carved from a wider vision for Ghana. It is important to establish that all developed and stable economies have had to build very good railway systems. The example below may help our appreciation of the enormous opportunities in the railways system.
The Indian railway system is the largest in Asia and ranks second in the world. The total route length is over 62.3 thousand kilometres. The Indian railways had a modest beginning in April 1853, when the first train journeyed from Bombay to Thane - a total of 35 kilometres. Now, as mentioned earlier, it ranks second largest in the world. The Indian railways have made a remarkable progress in attaining self-sufficiency in equipment. At the beginning of the planning era, the railways were importing 23 per cent of their equipment. Imports of railway equipment have now been brought down considerably. A reorganisation of the geographical jurisdictions of zones and divisions was done in 1996. This reorganisation was done after taking into account the quantum of workload handled by each zone, the traffic flows and easy accessibility to various activity centres. Now the Indian Railway network comprises of nine zones that are directly controlled by the Railway Board, which is at the helm of all the operations. Each zone is headed by a General Manager. The nine zones are: ¨ Central Zone with headquarters in Mumbai ¨ Eastern Zone with headquarters in Calcutta ¨ Northern Zone with headquarters in New Delhi ¨ North Eastern Zone with headquarters in Gorakhpur ¨ North-East frontier Zone with headquarters in Guwahati ¨ Southern Zone with headquarters in Chennai ¨ South-Central Zone with headquarters in Secundrabad ¨ South-Eastern Zone with headquarters in Calcutta ¨ Western Zone with headquarters in Mumbai. The amount of revenue generated from the railway service is about 20 times more than from road or about 10 times what is generated from air travels. The railway, from its commencement, carried 700,000 persons in eighteen months being an average of 1,070 per day. It has not stopped for a single day. There has occurred but one fatal accident on it in eighteen months. The rates are low for all classes of people to afford and yet travel in comfort, ease and convenience.
At 50, I expect that Ghana should adopt a radical transport policy. The transport sector is the vehicle that moves every other sector. We need to as a matter of urgency look at how we can take advantage of the railway system to better our lots.
I appeal to the President to set up a team of young, vibrant, radical and competent Ghanaians to study the railway system of other nations, consider our geographic outline and the nature of our land and come out with a comprehensive plan for the take off of a proper indigenous railway network for Ghana. As it is now, the refurbishment of the old railway system will only serve the interest of mining companies who have taken the place of the colonial imperialists whose main focus is to loot our nation and milk the citizens to death. We cannot allow that to continue. The Ministry of Ports, Harbour and Railways should be advised accordingly.
In 2005, July 2, the Minister of Ports, Harbour and Railways announced some plans to extend the railway system to facilitate economic development. “To begin with, the Minister said, “$5million is been sought from the Agricultural Development Bank for feasibility studies. According to the Minister, possible projects include, Tamale to Bolgantanga and Paga to Burkina Faso; Wenchi, Bole to Wa and Hamile to Burkina Faso. A year after these pronouncements, on March 23 2006, the minister was heard again saying they had received proposals from Czech consortium which he said would boost the economic potential of Ghana when completed. Here again he recognized the importance of the railway system to boost the economy. Yet another feasibility study was expected to be carried out in subsequent weeks through the support of the Czech government. It is interesting why the minister after recognizing the potential of this railway system to help our nation would be so slow at getting a proper feasibility study conducted. The routes suggested by the minister clearly show that the larger part of Ghana will be covered. Though mention was not made of the Volta region and Kintampo the centre of Ghana, I think future projections could take care of them. However, why this ministry with all the technical people there has failed after three years of expressing the intent to produce a comprehensive feasibility study is a matter of grave concern.
Nations like Germany, China, India, UK, USA, Switzerland and Spain etc, saw remarkable improvements in the life of their people, their economic development and the social reconstruction of their nation with the effective utilization of the railway system as a major means of transport. As argued earlier people in these nations travel longer distances to work and make a living.
It is a shame that the 950km railway network that we inherited from the colonial period and the few extensions from the first ten years after independence remain the only railway network we talk about today. We have even worse so failed to keep proper maintenance of them. Recently, the Ministry seems to be doing something about them.
In the UK, as more as 220 people are carried travel by trains compared to those who travel by cars. The number of hours spent on rail is 3-4 hours less than what by road. More load is carried by trains compared to cars. Even more, the train could be fueled not only by diesel and gasoline but by electrification. Infact in Germany for example, more trains are fueled by electricity than by diesel and gas. Communications in general is improved; newspapers could be sent all over the country within a relatively shorter time. The postage system sees a boost. Instead of two weeks of transporting letters from say Accra to Kintampo, it could be done in four hours with the railway system.
Another key issue is the amount of employment that the Railway System offers. There are six major areas in the Indian Railway System where jobs are offered to a varying number of people.