Tema, July 23, GNA - Rail transport the world over plays an important role to the economic development of nations. Rail transport in the case of Ghana, has played and continue to play very important role in the development of the economy in this era of golden age of business. Transporting goods and people from the ports, farming centres and mining areas to other parts of the country through rail transport is much cheaper, environmental friendly and fuel-efficient than using road transport, hence the need for the Government to pay special attention to the Sector.
Ghana Railways came into existence in 1903 when the Colonialists built the first lines in the then Gold Coast to convey the heavy equipment from the Takoradi Harbour to the mines in the Tarkwa area in the Western Region, which were then attracting considerable attention. Figures made available to the Ghana News Agency show that the volume of traffic in 1906 was 47,388 tons; it went up to 298,593 tons in 1916 and reached 805,227 tons in 1926. Passenger traffic showed similar growth from a total of 689,292 in 1906 and rose to 1.5 million passengers in 1925/26.
At the peak of its performance in the early 1960s, the railway lifted over two million tons of freight and some eight million passengers in a year.
However, the performance of the Railway started to slide downwards reaching as low as some 350,000 tons of freight in 1983.
It can be said that, the collapse of the Railway was arrested by the rehabilitation of infrastructure and acquisition of rolling stock, which started in 1983. However, this had not been sustained and had, therefore, not made the desired impact.
Looking at the figures in the last five years Ghana Railway Company (GRC) has made some gains with total freight of 973,000 tons and 1.5 million passengers in 1999, shooting up to 1.8 million tons of freight and 2.3 million passengers in 2003.
It is an undisputed fact that railway is a capital-intensive venture and investment in the sector must come in a package so that all the facets in the operations are tackled at the same time.
Today Ghana Railways stands at crossroads waiting to be ushered into a new phase of its existence. This is because after much neglect, it has now been realised that rail services are crucial to the transport needs of the country.
It is in this vein that the Government has drawn up a long-term development plan that proposes to expand the existing railway network from the Southern to Northern parts of the country.
This would pave the way for linking the country to its Sahelian neighbours of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger as well as Cote d'Ivoire and Togo to west and east, respectively.
There is a proposed link from Tema to Akosombo to facilitate multi-modal transport between rail and Volta Lake transport. There is also another proposal to upgrade the existing lines and construct new lines for a proposed Accra-Tema Sub-Urban Railway Network. However, in the short term, the restructuring of the Railways through concessionaires is ongoing and would soon be completed.
Most investments made by the Government in the railway infrastructure between 1983 and 1997 with World Bank assistance have not been sustained due to the high cost involved with infrastructure renewal and maintenance.
There is the need to re-engineer and re-orient Ghana's railway system to operate as much as possible without Government subvention. It is, therefore, important that the Government's decision to liberalise the rail sector tailored to suit the country's needs is implemented.
This would help the Government to transform Ghana Railways from its current fragmented, unprofitable state into a focused, profitable commercial enterprise that is market driven and service-oriented.
The decision to concession the Railways was taken after a national workshop of stakeholders including GRC Management and workers, Railway Users, Private Investors, Government Officials, Multilateral and Bilateral Institutions and after various consultations and international forums.
The concessionaire is required to inject capital, improve productivity and quality of service at a competitive price and lower total costs to the economy.
The objective of all these restructuring activities is to enhance the value of railway assets by putting them to their best and valuable use.
There is a track record of the success of private participation in the provision of rail services in many countries including Brazil; Cote d'Ivoire; Zambia, Cameroon and Burkina Faso. Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda are also in the process of concessioning their railways.
The Government is expected to pass a new Railway Act and Ghana Railway Development Authority Act to regulate the construction, operation and safety of railways as well as manage the post-concessioned Railway System.
From all indications, as a mode of transport, the Ghana Railway has a bright future and there is the hope that the country would soon be operating a very viable railway system that would contribute positively to the national economy and play its role in making Ghana the Gateway to the West Africa Sub-Region.
It hoped that concessioning would bring in the required capital injection and managerial capacities to revitalise and revamp the Railway Sub-Sector to take the load off the roads and make them safer as the carnage on the country's roads has much to do with heavy-duty vehicle that often break down in the middle of the roads.