Cairo metro Line 3 (Photo: Alstom)

AFRICA: Increased urban rail investment would offer a range of societal benefits for African cities, including improved air quality, reduced congestion and better access to socio-economic opportunities, according to a study published on November 14.

The Role of Urban Rail in Sustainable Africa study has been produced for Alstom by EY Climate Change & Sustainability Services, in conjunction with the COP27 climate change conference in Egypt. It recommends a number of policy measures aimed at encouraging the construction of more urban railways.

‘A key challenge is to ensure that the growth of African cities meets the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 11: Making cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable’, explained Andrew Deleone, Alstom’s regional President for Africa, Middle East & Central Asia. ‘For this to happen African cities must develop more sustainable transport systems, both to reduce carbon emissions and to foster inclusive socio-economic growth.’

Africa currently has the world’s highest rate of urbanisation, and the continent’s urban population is predicted to increase from 600 million in 2021 to more than 1·3 billion by 2050.

The study estimates that an increase in rail’s modal share in major African cities from the current 1% to 10% in 2030 and 20% by 2050 could reduce the number of cars on African roads by an estimated 8 million in 2030 and 29 million in 2050. Over the 20 year period from 2023 to 2050 this would avoid CO2 emissions in totalling 1 gigatonne. The construction of new railways is also estimated to create 258 jobs for every km of new line.

Concrete recommendations

The study offers five concrete recommendations for policy makers, aimed at increasing investment in greenfield rail projects. These are backed up by a number of examples of best practice from across the continent.

  • urban rail projects should be integrated in in long-term local and national development policies. In Senegal, sustainable urban mobility master plans were created for Dakar and five regional centres capitals as part of the national planning policy for the period to 2035.
  • financing for new railways could involve the private sector through public-private partnerships or concessions, either for the construction phase or for operation of the finished line. As an example, the study cites the Gautrain network serving Johannesburg and Pretoria, which was developed through a PPP.
  • cities may be able to secure financing for rail investment by increasing property taxes on real estate near the stations, or by introducing road tolls or congestion charges.
  • workforce skills should be assessed in both the labour market and the education sector, encouraging partnerships between companies and universities to support the development of training programmes, perhaps with a contribution from international organisations.
  • ·when new railways become operational, it is important to raise the awareness of residents about the environmental and socio-economic benefits of using rail, in order to encourage ridership.

The report cites Cairo as a positive example, estimating that the completion of the two monorail lines now under construction and two additional metro lines now being planned, would avoid a cumulative 35 million tonnes of CO2 emissions between 2023 and 2050. The expanded rail network would cut projected private car use by an estimated 595 000 trips per day, and save an estimated US$8bn per year through reduced congestion.

  • Subscribers can read more about metro developments in Cairo in the Autumn 2022 issue of Metro Report International magazine, available in our digital archive.