Wednesday 26 October 2022

The 2nd African Rail Digital Congress Tunisia

Accelerating Digital Transformation in Africa: What are the Challenges for Railways?

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17-20 October 2022

The 2nd African Rail Digital Congress hosted by the Tunisian National Railway Company (SNCFT), the African Union of Railways (AUR) and UIC in Tunisia, was a great opportunity for 100 participants from different countries to come together.

The 1st congress held in Cape Town in 2019, was organised by UIC to open the discussion on new opportunities for train users and rail operators.

During the congress, participants swapped ideas on best practices, and their associated successes and the risks. These discussions showed that digitalisation is the way forward for improving operations and increasing efficiency.

In his welcome speech François Davenne, stated that the FRMCS programme is the backbone of the railway’s digital strategy. He further noted that the 2-day congress would allow a “roadmap for tomorrow” to be created which would make Africa ready for 21st century mobility and provide the population with the transport capacity they expect for “the Africa they want” within the Agenda 2063.

Speaking on behalf of UIC Africa’s Chairman, Mohamed Rabie Khlie, Said Chandid stressed that rail must become the backbone of land mobility, both for passengers and goods.

Taoufik Boufaied, CEO of SNCFT and President of AUR, also noted that the congress would provide a great opportunity to exchange ideas and communicate.

Jean-Michel Evanghelou, UIC Deputy Director of the Rail System Department, explained the FRMCS project and how the 5G railway will be able to support all railway applications, both critical and non-critical. He further gave a broad description of UIC’s digitalisation projects, such as cybersecurity, ATO (automated or autonomous trains), biometrics with UIC’s OSDM specification, the digital freight platform, digital automatic coupling (DAC), artificial intelligence (particularly applied to predictive maintenance), eco-driving trains, and measuring train electricity consumption.

The congress was moderated by Francis Bedel, and in one of the sessions SNCFT, SNIM, ONCF, CamRail, and the Burkina Faso Ministry of Digital Transition shared their experiences and completed or ongoing projects. There were also five themed workshops, including PPP, Digital Twins, and BIM. Attendees were able to meet start-ups and additionally discuss ideas with leading companies, including Huawei, cSCEc, Plasser&Theurer and TMC.

Christian Chavanel, UIC Director of the Rail System Department, presented the conclusions from the workshops, noting that this experience has shown that the key to success is by:

  • Obtaining the lifting of legal and regulatory brakes, in addition to the existence of a national strategy for digitalisation,
  • Relying on academic work, working closely with universities and engineering schools,
  • Creating a network of start-ups and incubators,
  • Having a digital strategy specific to each railway company,

However, these do not go far enough, it is also necessary for the general management of each company to be heavily involved, showing commitment from all levels of a company, strong coordination, while adapting business processes, training the company’s employees with digital tools, and creating an “open” culture with workplace integration.

The congress ratified the Tunis Declaration on Digitalisation in the Railway Sector stating that:

  • The challenges related to mobility and climate change call for substantial investment in both infrastructure and rolling stock, which will require railway manufacturers to change their tariff policies.
  • All these investments will have to be supported by the current digital revolution.

For more information about UIC Africa activities please contact Maria Lafont, lafont@uic.org

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