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Opinions of Sunday, 3 September 2006

Columnist: Adomako, Appiah Kusi

The Time For National Rail Network Is Now

One of the safest, cost effective and most reliable means of transportation which we have neglected in Ghana is rail transportation. The neglect of rail transportation in Ghana started after the demise of Dr Nkrumah. Even since the colonial masters left the shores of Ghana and bequeathed a legacy of a triangular rail network we have not been able to add a centimetre of rail track to what was left us. We have only succeeded in collapsing a precious heirloom. This is something for which we must bow our heads in shame.

As we prepare to celebrate our fifty years of independence and the huge amount of money which the government has ear-marked for the celebration we have to ask ourselves whether we have been proper stewards of what the colonial masters and Nkrumah left us.

Accra is expanding. Congestion in the capital and other major cities has reduced traffic speeds to a crawl. Congestion is also the principal cause of excess energy use and emission outputs by transport. Road accidents continues to take their toll on innocent lives. Last week we were informed by Mrs. May Obiri-Yeboah, Head of Education and Planning of the National Road Safety Commission, that a total of 12,865 people lost their lives, while about 30,000 had very serious injuries through 89,156 road traffic accidents recorded in the country between 1998 and 2005. This is not withstanding the economic cost and lost to the nation.

The rail network in Ghana, which was developed by the colonial masters, was commodity focused, centring on where products like gold, timber, bauxite and manganese exist. With our destiny as a nation in our hands we need to redesign an effective national rail network that would be passenger focussed. It’s time for a national rail network in Ghana to connect major cities and towns.

Rail transportation has numerous advantages over any form of transportation we can think of. It carries more passengers and goods at one time. It is cost effective, safe, reliable and environmentally-friendly among other things. Beyond this, rail coaches and rail tracks are more durable than buses and other commercial cars.

Rail accidents are rare due to the fact that the network is controlled and manned by experts. Experience tells us that in Ghana blatant disrespect for traffic laws and the abundance of unworthy cars on our roads, coupled with indiscipline on the part of drivers is one of the main causes of road accidents. With rail transportation all these factors can easily be avoided. Countries like South Africa, India and Egypt have tried this and it has helped a lot. In the UK and other part of the EU people prefer using rail than cars. This helps the government to save money on importing crude oil and reduces pollution. Ghana, we have denigrated the rail system and it has become the ‘dungeon’ in which pick pockets operate.

Every now and then I ask myself this question: What then is the significance of the Ministry of Ports, Railways and Habours? What concrete thing has Prof Ameyaw Ekumfi been able to achieve for the railway industry? After nearly five years since the ministry was created, we have not seen any improvement in our rail system. We do not know whether he wants to develop the network to be around the commodity zone or what.

Fifty years of independence is enough for us. Every discerning mind will know that developing an effective rail system in Ghana is capital intensive. But the advantages that Ghana will gain from a rail system far exceed the money we will put into it.

It is very sad that our policy makers sometime lack this foresight. We always wait until we get to the door steps of the problem before we cry to the World Bank and our development partners for assistance. In 1998 when the water level at the Akosombo Dam became low we had to beg for funds to set up Aboadze Thermal Plant. The question I ask myself is that don’t we have energy experts and engineers who will predict the future and cause the government to design contingency measures to deal with this? Again and again, sometimes, I wonder whether we bring our thinking faculty to use. Now the Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG) will soon start power rationing. The question is, can’t we develop an alternative source of energy other than the hydro electric power and thermal plant? We need to bring our thinking and doing faculties into sync.

Ghana can save millions of dollars it uses to import crude oil if we can rethink our mode of transport by revisiting the rail system. If we had a well developed national rail network we would not have incurred trillions of cedis of debt at the Tema Oil Refinery (TOR).

In order to achieve this we would need to allow KNUST and the polytechnics to start running BSc and BTech/HND in Railway Engineering to get high and medium level man-power to drive the industry.

Government should commission the Ministries of Transport and Railways to identify the path for which the tracks will pass giving priority to passengers and commodities.

Then the involvement of the VRA and ECG as major shareholders is crucial as they will provide the electricity needed to run the trains.

What would be left is for government to secure grants and loans to buy the trains. It would do us good if government then gave the management of these services to private companies. Beyond national rail solving the problems of transportation, it would save the nation a lot of money on crude oil imports and it would also create more jobs for the economy. Business would progress at a faster speed.

Let us leave us a lasting legacy for Ghana’s hundredth anniversary of independence and beyond.

**Appiah Kusi Adomako is an international freelance writer and the president of the Ghana Chapter of Leaders of Tomorrow Foundation. He can be contacted through:
Leaders of Tomorrow Foundation, P.O. BOX. KS 13640. Kumasi. Tel www.leaders-of-tomorrow-inc.com
Email: appiahkusiy2k@yahoo.com