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Why trains are important for developing countries
There are few passenger trains in Africa today, but that is set to change in the coming decades. Over the Christmas weekend, Mali and Senegal signed a $2.75 billion deal to renovate a 745-mile railway. - photo by Daniel Lombardi
Few passenger trains operate in Africa today, but that is set to change in the coming decades. Over the Christmas weekend, Mali and Senegal signed a $2.75 billion deal with the state-owned China Railway Construction Corp. to renovate a 745-mile railway connecting the countries capital cities, Bamako and Dakar, over the next four years, according to Reuters.

"This will allow us to have 100 km per hour passenger trains. Today, passenger trains are not even doing 20 km per hour," said Transport Minister Mamadou Hachim Koumare.

This new rail development in West Africa is just part of a major web of tracks being spun across the African continent, according to the Mail & Guardian. Billions of dollars and thousands of miles of track are being invested into rail projects from Nigeria and Cameroon to Kenya and Ethiopia. The hope is these projects will spur economic development and help lift the worlds poorest continent out of poverty.

The World Bank has written that in addition to improving an economy's efficiency, public transportation can help address poverty by providing better access to jobs and services. Transportation also helps reduce social exclusion in poor communities.

The urban poor face a complex trade-off between residential location, travel distance, and travel mode, in an attempt to minimize the social exclusion associated with low earning potential, says the World Bank. The poor often choose to live in areas with cheaper living expenses despite few available jobs instead of living in areas with lots of employment opportunities and higher living costs.

Ibrahim Mayaki, CEO of the New Partnership for Africas Development (NEPAD), has often spoke on the importance of infrastructure to provide jobs and raise income levels for Africas poorest.

Transport access can improve education and markets for farmers outputs and others by cutting costs, facilitating private investment, improving jobs and income levels for many, he wrote in an essay for Africa Renewal, the U.N.s Africa news magazine.

Traditionally, public transportation in Africa has relied on a variety of buses that are notoriously dangerous and unpredictable, according to travel website Lonely Planet.

Just completed, Ethiopias new light rail system provides an example of how public transportation might work in Africas future. According to the Washington Times, the train stations along Ethiopias new light rail have already become hubs for commerce. A cross-town bus costs 90 cents but now the commute can be done on the train for 27 cents.

A jewelry shop owner told the Times it was great for his business that transportation costs were going down. Theres also more business space in the city due to increased infrastructure. This country is moving fast.

Ethiopians are hopeful that large infrastructure developments like railways will excite investors to their country. After a long period as a backwater in the global race for prosperity, sub-Saharan African nations such as Ethiopia are finally generating excitement among investors, wrote the Times.

After decades of neglect, it is positive to see major African cities now taking their transport crisis seriously and public transport is being developed in the right direction. A railway line or two will not solve problems, but is a good start anyway, the blog, "Africa This Time," pronounced.
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