A well-functioning economy starts with putting in place good transport infrastructure before any other primary infrastructure development, says professional services firm KPMG global infrastructure major projects advisory head De Buys Scott.
“The leverage potential of a well-developed and sustainable transport system – passenger and freight – cannot be underestimated,” he adds.
Scott further states that the infrastructure investments being made by the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) and State-owned freight logistics company Transnet, which will also include the upgrade of the rail infrastructure connecting South Africa to its regional neighbours, will help with growing business in South Africa and internationally.
“Greater export competitiveness and deeper regional integration could help propel South Africa towards faster-growing exports, enabling it to achieve higher, more inclusive, job-intensive growth, as laid out in the country’s National Development Plan,” Scott points out.
He stresses that all PRASA and Transnet projects are subject to significant localisation impe- ratives and commitments. Substantial parts of the global original-equipment manufacturer’s return on these projects must be reinvested into the local economy to assist in establishing such localised resources. This provides for substantial future growth potential and opportunities over a wide spectrum of businesses.
Although the future of rail infrastructure seems promising, Scott indicates that affordability is the leading challenge to developing the country’s rail infrastructure industry, followed by the lack of existing infrastructure and local capabili- ties, as well as the capacity to implement infra- structure upgrading plans and programmes.
“South Africa is in a massive infrastructure investment and development phase – virtually on every possible front. This absorbs the available resources from the fiscus quite quickly,” he elaborates.
Further, most of the country’s rail tracks are still the narrow-gauge width type that does not conform to the current standard-gauge width of the newer and more modern tracks, says Scott.
Subsequently, replacement trains have to be adjusted to fit the existing tracks, which is another cost to the system, with the replacement of tracks also a timely exercise, he explains.
Scott tells Engineering News that the outlook for South Africa’s rail infrastructure industry is healthy.
“As viable public-transport systems emerge, technology will play a central role in ensuring that systems are designed and managed optimally. For instance, ticketing could be digita- lised, with alerts sent to users when there are any delays or changes to the train schedules,” he says.
Scott also adds that, with increased interoperability between the country’s various transport networks, the same ticket or payment mechanism can be used throughout the country.
“The fact remains that, when substantial investment takes place in any industry, the value chain leverage potential becomes greater than ever before. Every aspect of development should be possible in the South African transport sector,” he concludes.