Most Influential Projects 2022

42 Afrail Express

Afrail Express

For exploring ways to connect a continent with high-speed rail

Africa’s population is booming—it’s currently home to 1.4 billion people, with more than half of countries on the continent expected to see their populations double by 2050. But limited mobility options have stymied economic growth—leaving the region in serious need of a transportation transformation. One potential gamechanger? A new project from Zurich’s Afrailways and Namibia’s Groot Suisse Industries to create a high-speed rail line that would connect nearly 80 percent of Africa’s population. Stretching from Morocco to South Africa, Nigeria to Egypt, the Afrail Express project could put Africa on the fast track to growth—with the potential to contribute more than US$5 trillion to the continent’s economy once fully operational in 2033.

“If nothing extraordinary like Afrail Express is done, poverty will continue to ravage the people in Africa for hundreds of years to come,” says Simon Kapenda, founder and chair of Groot Suisse. The project could also prove a powerful step toward achieving Agenda 2063, a strategic framework adopted by the Africa Union’s 55 member states to deliver inclusive and sustainable development.

The planned rail will be both expansive and speedy. The maglev (magnetic levitation) trains would top out at 431 kilometers (267.8 miles) per hour, eventually capable of moving some 600 million passengers and 500 million packages per week. With the first phase slated to launch in 2024, Afrailways tweeted in late August that it had signed a memorandum of understanding with “one of the largest Chinese high-speed rail network construction companies.” And while details remain sparse, project leaders remain steadfast in their vision. 

“We are going to witness the largest industrial revolution happening on the continent of Africa,” says Rachel Long, VP, corporate strategy, Afrailways AG. Once completed, the project will make international transit radically easier for people living on the continent, allowing them “to move around conveniently, whether it is for their education, work, business or pleasure.”

As the team plots out the rail line, it will need to balance a variety of needs and constraints. Case in point: The 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 US$90 billion first phase of construction, led by engineering giant AECOM. 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.

For now, it’s full steam ahead.