INTRO: Sudan Railways Corp has embarked on a three-year transition to transfer freight and passenger services to the private sector, and generate investment to bring the network up to a modern standard

BYLINE: Eng Omer M M Nour

General ManagerSudan Railways Corp

AS PRESIDENT of the Arab Union of Railways, I have great pleasure in welcoming delegates to Khartoum for the ninth UACF scientific symposium. It is highly appropriate - and no coincidence - that the conference theme is ’How the railway may work as a private sector’. Sudan Railways Corp has been addressing the very same questions over the last year. At the end of April, we completed the study phase and began a three-year transition which should see all passenger and freight train operations in the hands of private sector entrepreneurs by the end of 2001.

Under these proposals, which have been endorsed by the Cabinet, SRC will continue to be responsible for maintaining and developing the 4599 km network. As well as managing the investment, this will include day-to-day control of the stations and signalling. The corporation will earn revenue by selling paths to train operators, and we hope that this will improve the level of service provided.

At present, for example, the 1300 km Khartoum - Nyala corridor sees just one passenger train a fortnight. Since mid-August, a private company has run a hired 10-coach train once a week over the 700 km between Rahad and Nyala.

Freight services are expected to fare better under private management, too. There are significant opportunities for rail to recover traffic that has been lost to the roads, and the country’s economic recovery should help to boost rail freight carryings by 40% between now and 2001.

Privatisation of ancillary activities is also in the pipeline.

Positive signs that the SRC network - the third largest in Africa - is returning to health came last October, with the official commissioning of the new Khartoum North station. This was followed at the end of 1998 by a US$10m order for 185 wagons from Wagon Pars of Iran. But much more investment will be needed to bring the railway up to modern standards.

All trains serving the capital now call at Khartoum North, which serves an important district of the capital that is almost a city in itself. Built to a modern design, it provides a focal point for the community; there is a wide variety of retail outlets such as banks, duty-free shops, telecommunication offices, a bookshop and other commercial ventures.

Sudan’s rail network is 1067mm gauge and entirely single track. The most recent extensions were built to serve oilfields in the west. Built in 1995, these are a 52 km branch from Abu Gabra to El Muglad, and two 10 km links, from Elobied to an oil refinery and from Sharif station to Sharif oilfield. The following year a 10 km link was built to take container trains from Soba station to the container customs area.

From 1976, the railway’s financial situation and operating performance steadily deteriorated. The decline was due to problems endemic to the economy as a whole and the rapid expansion of road transport, plus the use of pipelines for benzine and oil. Locomotive availability became very poor, made worse by insufficient and inappropriate workshop equipment and unreliable signalling and telecommunications.

As a result of declining performance, the financial situation also deteriorated. SRC has reported net losses for some years and for the year ending June 30 1990 showed a loss of Sú146·4m (Sudanese pounds were replaced by the dinnar in 1992). The working ratio for the same period was 0·94, which means SRC was close to solvency on an operating basis. But debt increased by around Sú20m from 1980 to 1989, and in the 1976-90 period the cash flow crisis became so acute that we were often unable to meet the monthly payroll.

Turning SRC around

However, since 1990 things have gradually been improving as a result of two main events. At the SRC Salvation Conference in 1991 the government pledged significant support for the railway by: