Mammoth rail network to put West African economies on the right track

Each week, Africa View explores the trends, figures and initiatives shaping Africa. From education and energy to technology and innovation, it showcases topics and influential sectors driving countries on the continent.

CNN  — 

When it comes to minerals found in our phones, laptops, cars and planes, most are found in the resource-rich mines of West Africa.

Mineral exports are a major economic driver of nations such as Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Niger, and are predicted to rise from 109,000 tonnes a year to 3.4 million tonnes a year by 2030.

This dizzying development needs infrastructure to match, with reliable transport which can shift commodities from the sites where they are unearthed, to major ports from where they could be exported.

Railways, considered one of the most cost-effective ways of transporting goods for long distances over land, are sparse in West Africa, with fragmented lines which are not connected to a bigger network.

For this reason, countries in the region and mining companies are investing in a massive rail project which, when completed, will be 3,000 km long and link Benin, Burkina Faso, Niger, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria and Togo.

The network will combine newly constructed tracks with existing ones which will be upgraded, and the service will particularly benefit landlocked countries like Niger, which face the most excessive transport costs on the continent.

The lack of interconnecting services which cross borders currently make rail transport a costly option, as freight often has to be unloaded from a particular train and then loaded to a different one in a new country.

While the new rail project is designed to facilitate moving minerals from mines to ports, due to the commercial importance of such resources to a vast majority of African nations, experts say it has the potential to drive up further economic development.

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