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Opinions of Monday, 3 December 2018

Columnist: goldstreetbusiness.com

Making the most of impending railway infrastructure

If government’s ongoing efforts yield the anticipated results, Ghana is set to enjoy a dramatic improvement in the cost and operational efficiencies of its inter-city transport system. The country is making more concerted efforts to get a proper railway system up and running than at any other time in the past half a century.

The success of those efforts would be a key element in fulfilling Ghana’s national aspiration to accelerate its economic growth and development. It is instructive that there is no single developed economy in the world that does not have fully functional railway infrastructure. For Ghana its absence is akin to a missing link in its efforts to develop.

To be sure, there is undeniable physical evidence that work has commenced towards the development of Ghana’s railway infrastructure, even for those who suspect that government’s lofty public statements as to how extensive the resultant railway network will be, amount to yet another case of exaggerated promises, as has so often been the case in the past. Indeed, many neutral observers of the incumbent political administration assert that its biggest shortcoming is its penchant for trying to do too much too quickly and there are widespread worries that this will crystallize again in its efforts to develop and modernize the country’s transport system.

We share such worries. Even as work commences towards putting a functional railway system in place, government is already looking at establishing a “sky train” network for urban passenger transportation.

This newspaper believes that this may turn into another case of biting off more than government can chew. Indeed, we suggest that government should rather prioritize what it wants to do and focus on the transport infrastructural concepts at the top of that list, at least for now. This approach would require some hard decisions but it stands the best chance of delivering clear positive results within the short time frame that politicians ultimately need to work within if political will is to be sustained until the project is actually completed.

Under the current circumstances and realities we recommend that not only does government concentrate on developing a working railway system, rather than spread itself thin with a simultaneous effort to develop a “sky train” system as well; but even within its railway development efforts it focuses primarily on the transportation of goods rather than passengers as well.

This is because, even if public private partnerships or outright private ownership are employed, substantial state material and human resources are required to put a railway network in place, and work can only be carried out so fast, and not faster. Therefore, government should focus on the aspects of railway infrastructure development that would have the biggest, fastest positive impact on the economy, and therefore sustainably improved living standards.

This can best be achieved by deploying a railway system that has the capacity to replace road transport as the primary means of moving bulk goods, particularly agricultural produce, cash crops and food crops alike, as well as industrial raw materials and consumer goods.

To be sure moving people is important too but much of any capacity provided in that regard would go into economically unproductive activity – such as attending funerals in places far from home – whereas the transportation of goods would always produce economic benefits. This is made all the more important by its potential impact on the success of ongoing nation-wide initiatives such as one district one factory and planting for food and jobs.

Significant positive impact would not only accelerate Ghana’s economic growth and development; it would also generate the requisite goodwill and support from the citizenry for government to keep devoting considerable resources into expanding the railway network further, ultimately including lots of passenger transport as well.

But government needs to start its efforts right, by setting limited, achievable targets rather than spreading itself too thin and failing to get to the finishing line fast enough for the populace to appreciate its efforts.