THE recent signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between South African Heavy Haul Association (SAHHA) and Southern African Railways Association (SARA) is set to result in a boom for the regional rail sector and eventually grow the 16-nation bloc’s economy.
It is a giant step in the region’s adoption of technology in line with the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0), which is the current trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies.
Brian Monakali, Chairman of SAHHA and International Heavy Haul Association (IHHA), said the milestone marked the beginning of a collaboration agreement between the two organisations to work towards ensuring the revival of the technical chapter of the Southern African railways.
The signing came as the heavy haul industry in South Africa and across the continent met at a three-day workshop to map out a common view of the implications of Industry 4.0in their businesses and more importantly, to develop a common strategy to implement Industry 4.0 and be able to reap maximum benefits to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and its people.
“The MoU is the only way that we will have all rail operators participate in terms of making sure that the research, innovations and technologies that come out are implemented,” Monakali said.
“We want them to be implemented in a systematic way because to promote intra-Africa trade, we need a functional rail system that works seamlessly so that a train can be able to traverse from one country to another flawlessly. Thus, we need to look at all these technical systems that will need to enable this,” Monakali added.
Christopher Musonda, SARA Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Zambia Railways Limited, acknowledged the MOU saying it would improve collaboration between operators in the region.
Musonda said other key industries such as agriculture and mining would enjoy lower services in the rail sector as the result of the collaborations and adoption of technology.
He believes the rail sector is ready for Industry 4.0 hence SARA was always looking for collaborations with relevant associations.
The South-North corridor, running from South Africa to Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is among corridors SARA has earmarked for a technology revolution.
Monakali, who is also the General Manager of Capital Planning at Transnet Freight Rail, said it was crucial that gearing for Industry 4.0, solutions implemented by respective rail operators were in sync.
Transnet is already recording some gains in drone technology to monitor and prevent copper theft.
Musonda pointed out Transnet was already devising innovative ideas to monitor trains from DRC to the Richards Bay in South Africa.
“We are also looking at how we can simplify and make it cheaper to monitor our trains and goods and how we can collaborate. We are looking forward to quickly adopting Industry 4.0 to passageways like the South-North Corridor,” Musonda concluded.
The rail sector in most SADC states is enduring a series of operational challenges. Rail transport is denounced as unreliable. In South Africa, the continent’s most advanced economy, it is synonymous with violence and tragic accidents.
– CAJ News