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Cameroon to host 3rd African congress on digital railway innovation in Yaoundé

Cameroon to host 3rd African congress on digital railway innovation in Yaoundé
  • Comments   -   Wednesday, 03 April 2024 15:09

(Business in Cameroon) - Cameroon is set to host the 3rd African Congress on Digital Railway from May 28 to May 30, 2024, in Yaoundé, the nation's capital. This event, organized by Camrail, the Cameroonian railway company, and the International Union of Railways (UIC), aims to encourage industry stakeholders to leverage digital technology to enhance safety, reliability, profitability, and customer experience. "In addition to issues strictly related to sponsorship, the aim is to propose ideas and solutions for significantly improving the quality of services offered today. The cell phone companies are already proposing solutions, but further thought is needed. It's also for this reason that academics are expected in Yaoundé. Because the university is still a hotbed of research," says Pascal Miny, Camrail's Managing Director.

The UIC firmly believes that the African railway system must become more digital to meet future challenges. According to the organization, digital technology represents an opportunity to introduce innovative solutions for both passenger transport and freight and minerals, potentially helping the continent catch up with its railway transport delays. This international body asserts that the socio-economic context in Africa should allow for "exceptional and rapid" digitalization, noting that some digital applications are more advanced in Africa than in Europe or North America, like mobile payments.

"Digitalization will offer African economies a significant means to achieve considerable progress, both industrially and in services. New technologies will thus bring innovative solutions to railway development, which combines both industry and services," the UIC supports. Advances such as precise train localization, digital signaling, and standardization of onboard interfaces are among the technological advancements enabling this leap forward. The General Manager of Camrail stated the company is "open to any relevant proposal" that could facilitate this goal.

Digitalization of track maintenance

Camrail has been experimenting with digitalization for several years now. In 2017, the company launched an electronic ticketing platform allowing users to purchase train tickets online via a computer, smartphone, or tablet. This innovation aligns with mobile payment ticket purchases through telecom operators like Orange and MTN. The company says this payment method significantly saves time for travelers (by avoiding queues at ticket counters) and improves access to InterCity train tickets connecting Yaoundé and Douala.

In its modernization process, Camrail has decided to digitalize the maintenance of its infrastructure, primarily built during the colonial era. On this note, a contract for a digital pilot project for the maintenance of the Yaoundé-Douala railway line was signed on September 20, 2023, by the Minister of Transport, Jean Ernest Masséna Ngalle Bibehe, on behalf of the State of Cameroon, and Yannick Gilis, General Manager of the Belgian company Pepps Engineering Srl. This project involves the Belgian company assisting in digitalizing the maintenance workflows governing this transport line.

Currently, maintenance is performed manually, meaning a person must go on-site and identify a malfunction before intervening, according to the Ministry of Transport. The digital system to be implemented will allow for the anticipation of certain failures and remote maintenance monitoring, saving time and resources. On specific actions to be taken, the General Manager of Pepps Engineering Srl explained that maintenance exchanges currently done on paper will be digitalized using tablets and computers to ensure rapid information transfer and allow maintenance managers to make swift decisions to minimize unplanned downtime.

This 3rd African Congress on Digital Railway comes at a time when Camrail is planning to renovate 560 km of railway tracks on the Douala-Yaoundé and Belabo-Ngaoundéré segments to ensure the interconnection of the country's east and facilitate exchanges with Chad and the Central African Republic (CAR). This rehabilitation is part of investments announced by several donors, including the European Investment Bank (EIB), the World Bank, and the French Development Agency (AFD), to finance the renovation of the country's railways and facilitate the mobility of people and the transport of goods, as reported by Agence Ecofin.

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