What makes rail transport such an effective form of transport in Africa

According to a paper published  by the African Development Bank Group’s Transport, Urban Development & ICT Department, “Rail transport, as a result of its energy efficiency, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and lower cost per ton kilometre, is expected to play an increasingly important role in the conveyance of freight over long distances.”

The paper goes on to outline how, in comparison to other means of transportation, railways are particularly useful in mass transit systems for both inter-city and urban settings.

In 2021 Unitrans Africa diversified into offering a dedicated rail link between Mozambique and Zimbabwe. In partnership with the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ), Caminhos de Ferro de Mocambique (CFM), and Traxtion. With the refinement of this corridor, there is a lot of scope for further partnerships in Africa.

It is more environmentally friendly

Greenhouse gas emissions per passenger kilometre for rail transport are up to five times less than road transport. In addition, external rail costs in terms of noise pollution and infrastructure deterioration (which in turn requires fossil fuels and maintenance) are much lower than road freight. Unitrans Africa, in its ambition to service its clients’ needs, currently runs a rail solution between the port of Maputo and Zimbabwe. Each train offering delivers 70 vehicles worth of cargo and reduces greenhouse gas emissions by in excess of 75%.

Aside from freight, it is interesting to note that according to this report published by the European Environment Agency (EEA) rail travel is the most environmentally-friendly mode of passenger travel (apart from walking or cycling).  “Aviation’s emission impacts are much higher on a passenger-kilometer basis. But the report notes that flying is not necessarily the most harmful choice. Travel by petrol or diesel-powered car, especially if traveling alone, can be more harmful,” the report said.

It is highly cost-efficient

Trains burn less fuel per ton kilometre than trucks. The key here is in distance – rail transportation is only more affordable than road transportation for long distances due to the capacity the trains can handle. Our unique offering encompasses a patented wagon design that allows for flexibility in handling multiple commodities in either direction of loading.

Direct access

Road freight can be problematic and unpredictable in terms of delivery times due to poor road conditions, traffic congestion, and mechanical failures. In addition, extreme border congestion can lead to huge delays. Rail transport usually offers a more direct delivery solution. Through the key partnerships with NRZ National Railways of Zimbabwe, CFM Caminhos de Ferro de Mocambique, and Traxtion, Unitrans Africa is spurring trade in Africa by offering dedicated rail links between Maputo Port and three major Zimbabwean trade hubs, Harare, Bulawayo, and Gweru.

These transport services offer key access and an enhanced opportunity for importers and exporters to utilise Maputo’s multi-purpose deep-water port, connecting customers in the hinterland with their global trade partners and vice versa.

As we have seen with this rail corridor between Zimbabwe and Maputo, transit times have been reduced, costs lowered and we are able to offer a more reliable service. The positive economic impact of this more cost- and time-efficient trade corridor has been felt throughout the region and underscores Unitrans Africa’s commitment to driving sustainable growth within sub-Saharan Africa.

Header Photo by Aleksandar Malivuk