Main line railway transport is well known as an effective system for the movement of people and freight between cities, towns and industrial centres, while metros, light rail and tram systems serve the same purpose in urban areas. Several low income countries (LICs) were served by rail based transport from the late 19th and early 20th century, although some of the railways were neglected and closed, when road transport became more widely available. In general, the routes had been built to carry export and import traffic and achieved rather limited penetration of the hinterland. Today, both LICs and the relevant funding agencies ignore the potential contribution of the different rail modes of transport towards solving some of the pressing physical communication needs in these countries and their major cities.
One reason for this lack of interest may be linked to the fact that, today, railways, metros and tramways are viewed as expensive solutions that can only be funded by relatively wealthy nations. Unfortunately, little research appears to have been conducted on how to design, build and operate affordable railways, given the specific constraints and requirements of LICs, even though many national and international bodies have invested a great deal of effort into identifying means of financing railway projects and into the political administration of railways and similar public services.
The authors of this report briefly examine the available know-how to support the design and operation of railways in LICs and determine the gaps that exist in research into railways for LICs. They have discovered that much effort has been expended in finding suitable financing and sustainable economic systems for transport in developing countries but only very limited research has been conducted on the specific technical issues peculiar to LICs. Most of the research gaps identified relate to the technical development of systems capable of providing low-cost, sustainable railways in countries with finite funds, limited technical resources and a lack of robust maintenance cultures.
In the view of the authors of this paper, the most critical gaps in the research for railways in LICs are the design of a long-term reliable and affordable types of railway track design and the development of high resilience railway control (signalling) and communications systems.
Research is also needed into ways of getting a sustainable and long term financial and operational management structure, both of which are crucial to allow success for railways in LICs.
This report has been produced by PRC Rail Consulting for Evidence on Demand with the assistance of the UK Department for International Development (DFID) contracted through the Climate, Environment, Infrastructure and Livelihoods Professional Evidence and Applied Knowledge Services (CEIL PEAKS) programme, jointly managed by HTSPE Limited and IMC Worldwide Limited.
Connor, P.; Schmid, F. Rapid desk-based study: Research gaps in rail engineering and technical aspects of high volume transport in low income countries. Evidence on Demand, UK (2014) iii + 18 pp. [DOI: 10.12774/eod_hd.jan2014.connor]