African Union on the Right Track

If there’s one thing Africa badly needs, it’s a continent-wide railway network. Africa is no nearer one than it was back in the late 19th Century when Cecil Rhodes first broached the idea of a Cape-to-Cairo railway.

Indeed, Africa lags far behind both North America and Europe, which have long since enjoyed continent-wide connectivity. Indeed, Canada and the U.S. sewed up an integrated network more than 100 years ago.

But Africa may have taken steps, albeit small ones, to piece together a more unified railway system. Abou-Zeid Amani, the African Union’s commissioner for infrastructure and energy,  recently said that railway connectivity is one of the union’s flagship projects.

True, that project might seem over-ambitious, given its call for high-speed railways linking  all of Africa’s capitals and big cities.  But putting railway connectivity on the AU’s to-do list is still a big step forward.

africarail

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Forging Links Across Continents

When it comes to throwing down railway tracks, China is nothing if not ambitious. Hardly a day goes by when it doesn’t announce the construction of yet another  line into the fastness of the Middle Kingdom, or the opening of yet another route for high-speed passenger trains.

But it’s in forging rail links to the rest of Asia and Europe where China is most ambitious. The country has already dispatched freight trains to Spain. And it would seem to like nothing more than to punch a standard-gauge line through Central Asia to Turkey.

China is also keen to link up with its neighbors — no mean feat, given their different gauges, as well as their lack of rail infrastructure itself.

Indeed, the break of gauge is particularly troublesome, as the map below shows. Yet, one shouldn’t rule out the possibility that a  country as big and powerful as China won’t step in and convert neighboring railway systems to standard gauge.

trans-asian railway system