Westafrica is finally poised for some rail investments. Not only are lines in Nigeria close to completion, but also projects such as the Moroccan high-speed links in operation. At the same time projects for light rails and metros emerge in the metropolitan regions.
One big topic however remained fairly untouched: Operations and Maintenance.
There are multiple reasons for the poor condition, efficiency and reliability of most rail operations in Westafrica. While the tracks with steel sleepers date back to the colonial era, only little investment was done in other relevant E&M works such as signaling, electrification, telecommunication, track maintenance vehicles, workshop and station facilities. This lack of continuous investment and upgrade paired with limited knowledge on the efficient maintenance of the track has resulted in an investment and maintennace gap. Many who have traveled this region by train or who are planning or having investments in the resource business know the effects too well: Many derailments, many delayed trains.
The governments of Senegal and Mali have now taken a step out of that situation by establishing a new operator for the 1286 km railway line from Dakar in Senegal to Bamako in Mali.
At the same time, the governments have signed agreements with China Railway Construction Corp (International) Ltd to rehabilitate the railway line. It is a pitty that Europe can not provide a competitive offer to do such a rehabilitation in Westafrica, including financing, and simultaneously consult in developing efficient and effective means of infrastructure and rolling stock operation and maintenance.
As soon as the plans and costs for the rehabilitation are on the table, it should certainly als be discussed if a conversion of the meter gauge line to standard gauge should be considered. It would certainly reduce costs on the long run and be a good strech of the long awaited northern african land bridge project.