Home to a population of nearly 1.4 billion—one that’s expected to almost double by 2050—Africa is in serious need of a transportation transformation. One potential gamechanger? A new project by Zürich’s Afrailways and Namibia’s Groot Suisse Industries to create a high-speed rail line connecting most of the continent, spanning Morocco to South Africa, Nigeria to Egypt. With maximum speeds of 431 kilometers (267.8 miles) per hour, the Afrail Express will have the capacity to transport more than 600 million passengers and 500 million packages per week.
It’s a bold reimagining of Africa’s mobility—allowing people to live in one country and work or attend school in another, says Simon Kapenda, the founder and chairman of Groot Suisse, who also serves as project leader for Afrail Express.
“By enabling most Africans to travel easily, fast and at affordable rates, Afrail Express will have a large impact,” he says. “Afrail Express will make trading in Africa more efficient, and that is the core factor for fast economic development and growth for the continent.”
With its grand scope, the ambitious project could also mark a powerful step forward in achieving Agenda 2063, a strategic framework adopted by the Africa Union’s 55 member states to deliver inclusive and sustainable development.
To accelerate progress on Afrail Express, lead engineer AECOM will launch multiple sections simultaneously when the first phase of construction is slated to begin in 2024. Expected to employ more than 2 million construction workers, the build-out will ultimately reach nearly 80 percent of Africa’s population, connecting major cities like Cape Town to Casablanca to Cairo.
As the team plots out the rail line, it needs to balance a variety of needs and constraints that will inform decisions on the project specifications. Case in point: The maglev system will be built on elevated tracks to ensure the ultra-fast trains won’t wreak havoc on vehicle and pedestrian traffic in urban areas—and won’t disrupt wildlife in remote areas where tourism is a major economic driver.
And in a move that could prove as transformative as the train line itself, Afrail will issue and sell its own Cillar Coin cryptocurrency to finance the first US$90 billion phase of construction. The company will also make Cillar Coin the central currency for the Afrail Express ticketing system, a decision designed to eliminate cross-border exchange rates and fees.
Once Afrail Express is operational by 2033, it could generate more than 50 million direct and indirect job opportunities and has the potential to contribute more than US$5 trillion to Africa’s economy. With many countries across the continent struggling to keep pace with the demands of a surging population, Kapenda says the need for the project is urgent.
“If nothing extraordinary like Afrail Express is done, poverty will continue to ravage the people in Africa for hundreds of years to come.”
Photo credit: Nikkei Asia