Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Western Region and Independence struggle
Story: MOSES DOTSEY AKLORBORTU, Takoradi
The history of this country would not be complete without the role played by the railway workers, the enginemen union, the chiefs and the people of the Western Region.
The Railway Workers Union (RWU) and Engine Workers Union (EWC of TUC), popularly known as the Enginemen, as well as the Mines Workers Union were very instrumental in the struggle.
As part of their support for the declaration of the positive action that led to the attainment of independence, the enginemen and railway workers laid their tools down and every economic activity came to a standstill.
This was because the railway system powered the economic activities of the country, transporting goods from the hinterland to the port for export and the supply of essential services such as water and electricity and aiding in postal services to other parts of country. Indeed so essential was their service that their continued strike would be detrimental to the nation.
Mr. Bosomtwe Arthur, a 96–year-old man, who recounted the story of GRC in tears, did not understand the reason why the company that powered the economy and joined the struggle for independence had been neglected.
“We supported Nana Kobina Nketsia IV of blessed memory; we gave all the support that Mr. Kwame Nkrumah and the CPP needed and the Independence struggle started here in the Western Region. Nana Kobina IV was imprisoned; our leader, Nkrumah, was also jailed in Accra and we laid down our tools in the push for self-governance.
We were molested, but we stood by our leaders, we demonstrated the spirit of nationalism. We put the nation first. I was then in the Accra office, mobilizing the people. The GRC was the only company that supported the economy; the very solid rock around which all other companies revolved.
But it is sad that today, we have forgotten the story of the railway workers and the enginemen and the Chiefs have lost their respect”, he said sadly.
“The role we played in the railways
Mr. Arthur resigned on November 11, 1973 from active service and says he wished that the story of the enginemen would be told differently.
should have been acknowledged
for us to blow our horns, my son”.
It is a fact that the English banks currently operating in the country, the defunct GNTC, UTC, UAC and others came to Ghana because of the Ghana Railways Company (GRC).
It would also interest people to know that the current Ghana Water Company, the Electricity Company of Ghana and the Public Works Department, Post and Telecommunications and others all came out of the GRC.
The company provided huge support for the country and also supported Dr. Kwame Nkrumah throughout the struggle, after the proclamation of positive action.
Their support for the CPP was in solidarity with the Chiefs, Paa Grant, Pobee Biney, Nana Kobina Nketsia and a host of others.
“The role we played in the railways should have been acknowledged for us to blow our horns, my son. I have a lot of stories to tell about GRC as a pioneer and the only surviving worker, but I am sick and weak”, he told this reporter at his Kojokrom residence.
“I am sad, my son I am very sad. How can we be neglected? My everything was for the rail but it is all gone. We used to operate with beautiful coaches on steel slabs and our company was the best in Africa”, Mr. Arthur said.
He said it was sad that the country was celebrating 50 years without the railways, “but I am glad that we the workers at the time realized our importance and used it to the advantage of the country.
The story of the railways started when the decision was taken in 1896 to construct a railway in the Gold Coast, to provide a means of transporting heavy mining equipment to the Tarkwa Mines area, which was attracting considerable attention.
A survey was carried out to locate a suitable point on the coast and in August, 1897, Sekondi was recommended as an ideal port for the construction of a railway to Tarkwa, a distance of 40 miles. The volume of traffic was estimated to be light and the harbour ideal.
The choice of Sekondi was informed by two considerations; the initial railway was from the Coast to Tarkwa and it was after the Sagrenti war when Ashanti came under the colonial power that the extension to Kumasi was considered. They initially wanted the shortest distance to Tarkwa from the coast.
The construction of a railway from Sekondi, therefore, began in early 1898 but was suspended due to objections to the selection of Sekondi.
Work began in August 1898 with the construction of a base with landing jetties, staff quarters, workshops, running sheds, carriage and wagon sheds, turntables, etc at Sekondi, a place that had a few mud huts formerly. Heavy rains, scarcity of labour and finally, the last Ashanti war, hampered the progress of the work. At the end of the war in 1900, work continued and the railway reached Tarkwa in May 1901.
Therefore, the Tarkwa-Kumasi extension was authorized. Construction of the extension began in June 1901, reached Obuasi in December 1903. The first train left Sekondi for Kumasi on October 1, 1903.
The benefit of the introduction of the railway to the country in its early years was very remarkable. In 1900 the total imports was £1,294,963 and the country’s exports totaled £885,446 while the revenue generated for that period stood at £585,583. In 1905 there was in increase in export, a total of goods worth £1,646,145 were exported and goods imported amounted to £1,484,068.
In the year 1909, export and import doubled. Export stood at £2,655,573, import was £2,394,412 and revenue also increased to £778,552.
The revenue consisted of Customs and Excise duties and other taxes and levies. Of significance was the total exports which tripled in value six years after the introduction of the railway.
The exported commodities were made up of cocoa, manganese and timber.
From 1905 to 1927, GRC recorded a gross of £1,156,453, spent £572,882 and had a reserve of £583,571.
With the increase in trade as a result of the railway, it soon became clear that the lighterage harbours in Sekondi and Accra, could not cope with the volume of goods passing through them. There was the need for a deep-water habour where ships could berth and discharge or load goods with minimum loss or damage.
The excess revenue accruing from the working of the railway facilitated the construction of the Takoradi Harbour, about 6 miles west of Sekondi, which was opened in 1928.
The fortunes of the railway continued to improve and in the 1950s, Ghana Railways was considered to be one of the best railway systems on the African continent. At the height of its glory, Ghana Railway carried over two million tons of freight and six million passengers in a year.
All this while, the railway was a part of the Civil Service and so all its earnings, mostly surpluses, were paid into the national coffers because it did not control its finances.
The company was the first to start generating power. The first power generating plant in the Gold Coast was installed and operated by the GRC in the 1920s at Location. It was primarily for supplying power to the workshops, and the Takoradi Harbour.
Later, power was extended to the Sekondi and Takoradi townships and the supply of power for the public necessitated the government taking over the powerhouse and supplies for operation by the newly-created Government Electricity Department in 1947. This is now the Ghana Electricity Company.
Earlier, the government had carved the Post and Telecommunication Department from the Railways, which was postal train and the Morse System of Telecommunication.
The Postal Train worked in tandem with the Mail Boat, which normally docked at the Takoradi Habour to deliver mails from UK and pick up mails.
Also, the Water Works and the Public Works Department came out of the Railway Department. By then rail lines had been constructed to Inchaban and the Weija Head Works in Sekondi and Accra respectively to enable equipment to be sent there for the provision of water to bungalows and residences and also to Tarkwa, Aboso and Prestea for the whites who were working in the mines in those areas
The Railway Department was starved of essential foreign exchange and local currencies needed for the procurement of both local and foreign inputs for maintenance works, with the result that the railway equipment, machinery and rolling stock inevitably started to deteriorate. The vicious cycle that set in affected traffic which declined as a result of the decline in efficiency and reliance on railway operations.
Like any organization in a state of decline, the best talents started leaving the company and the skill and brain drain caused untold damage to it. The company was beset by crisis after crisis and its self-regulatory system collapsed and was replaced by temporary systems.
From the 1970s, when cocoa prices were at their highest levels successive governments did not use the revenues accruing from exports to maintain national assets like the Railway Company which were important for ensuring continued revenue in future.
The decline of GRC further worsened when in the early 1970s, an uncontrolled proliferation of heavy road articulators came in to cream off the best and high-rated traffic of cocoa and timber. These articulated trucks, apart from causing considerable damage to the road networks, also added heavily to the already high fuel bill of the nation.
The company did not only help In the
struggle but also supported the economy.
By 1983, the once proud Ghana Railway was down on its knees, and had virtually collapsed. It was carrying fractions of what it used to do; a total of 350,000 tonnes of freight and less than two million passengers. Railways, by their nature, are capital-intensive ventures and for any investments in them to be fruitful, they need to be in a complete package, which must tackle all the facets and components including the human resource.
In the early 1980s, when the government embarked on the Economic Recovery Programme, the railway network was recognized as crucial to the transport needs of the economy. The rehabilitation of the railway was, therefore, accepted as a cornerstone of the programme and efforts were made to rebuild the lost capacity of the railway through rehabilitation of infrastructure and acquisition of rolling stock.
The rehabilitation, which has been carried out in five phases, commenced in 1983 and by 2003, 20 years later, an amount of US$256 million had been invested in Ghana Railway. With such a huge amount of money invested in it, one would expect a company bustling with activities and being the cornerstone of the transportation system in the country. The present state of the railway in Ghana belies the fact that such an amount was expended on it barely 20 years ago. The reason is not far-fetched.
Railway investments must come as a package to take care of all the components in the system.
A railway is made up of the track, the signal and telecommunication, locomotive, trucks, vans and coaches. An efficient railway must have all the component parts in good working order. No one part must lag behind the other.
As the railway system stands now,
the tracks are weak after the rehabilitation
carried our about 18 years ago
When the rehabilitation of the railway started in 1983, the first phase covered the Western Line, which carries most of the freight and about half of the passenger traffic. It covered the rehabilitation of the track, signals and telecommunication and procurement of the present passenger coaches.
The rehabilitation achieved its basic objectives and revived the Western Line. However, the strategies to attract more traffic received a setback due to acute shortage of locomotives. This inhibited the realization of the full potential of rehabilitated line. By 1998, 10 years after the completion of the first rehabilitation, when new locomotives were procured, the Western Line had started deteriorating, and could not support the locomotives in operation.
These wagons were, at the time (1988) between 40 and 45 years old and had outlived their usefulness. At the same time also, the Ghana Bauxite Company and the Ghana Manganese Company expressed their readiness to export one million tones each of the ores and wanted the Railway Company to provide the capacity.
GRC accepted the challenge and initiated action to procure 160 high-capacity new mineral wagons with funds from the private sector. Consequently, GRC floated tenders for the financing and supply of the mineral wagons, materials and equipment for the strengthening of track and improvement of the signaling and telecommunication system on the Takoradi-Awaso Line.
However, the Ministry of Finance indicated that since the loan facility offered by the private sector was non-concessionary, Ghana Government could not issue guarantees to cover the facility. The purchase of the new wagons using private sector financing was, therefore, abandoned.
Ghana Bauxite and Ghana Manganese Companies were then approached and they offered to assist GRC to procure old refurbished wagons and also strengthen some sections of the track from Nsuta to Awaso. With no option and imminent collapse staring GRC in the face, the offer was reluctantly accepted. This was in the year 1999.
Together, the two companies provided a total of US$7.705m for the purchase of 125 wagons whose lifespan is 10 years whereas the new wagons would have a lifespan of 50 years. The wagons arrived in the later part of 2000 and were immediately put into service. Repayment of the loans with interest began in March, 2001.
Another project which commenced in mid-2000, is the rehabilitation of the 154 passenger coaches purchased in 1986 from the then German Democratic Republic. The German Government, through KFW, provided an amount of 5 million Deutschmarks for the work but it was enough to rehabilitate only 46 coaches. Most of the coaches have, therefore, been packed at the location workshops, waiting to be refurbished.
As the railway system stands now, the tracks are weak after the rehabilitation carried out about 18 years ago. The signaling and telecommunication system is nothing to write home about. The mineral wagons, with limited life left in them, must be replaced with new and modern ones. The passenger coaches are dilapidated and need to be refurbished.
Nothing seems to be working well in the railway sector. The problem is further worsened by GBC being denied a share in the haulage of the high-rated cocoa traffic. Bauxite has also seen no increase in tariffs for 16 years. So after the mineral companies have deducted the loan repayment instalment with interest, GRC is left with nothing to expend on operations and also pay its workers.
The vision of the GRC is to become the market leader in freight and passenger transport in its corridors of operations. This requires it to be equipped to play a central and positive role in the national economy.
Towards this end, and in order to develop the company into a commercially viable enterprise, the government proposed to restructure its operations through concessionary arrangements. Concessioning would introduce substantial private sector participation into the management and financing of railway operations.
The programme, which was being handled by the Divestiture Implementation Committee, encountered some difficulties and has, therefore, been discontinued. With the low tariffs paid by Ghana Bauxite Company and Ghana Manganese Company and no cocoa (high-rated tariff) to haul, Ghana Railway Company is now a pale shadow of itself.
The question that must agitate the minds of all Ghanaians is – Can we afford to see the collapse of our railway system or should we look on while our rail system collapses?
It is important to note that significant structural and technological changes continue to take place within the Railway industry worldwide. These changes impose increasing challenges for governments in the developing countries and call for more capital investment for modification and expansion of railway infrastructure, acquisition of modern locomotives and wagons and improved managerial capabilities.
It has been realized that government’s investment alone from the traditional sources of funding cannot meet the demands of the evolving changes. Significant support by way of private-sector participation in railway investments is, therefore, required.
All over the world, countries
are investing in the rail sector
The benefits of an efficient railway to a country like Ghana are enormous. The rail network was designed to provide vital support to the export sector in which exports like cocoa, timber, bauxite and manganese play a dominant role. If greater proportions of cocoa and timber go to the port by rail, they become more competitive on the world market, because of the low cost of transporting these by rail.
Transportation by rail would result in reduction in the consumption of petroleum products because railways are more energy efficient compared to other modes of land transport. This is even more important because of the country’s dependence on imported petroleum products.
The railway is the only mode that can provide bulk and timely movements of freight with less resultant pollution of the environment.
All over the world, countries are investing in the rail sector for the movement of bulk and heavy traffic in order to cut down on fuel consumption in this era of constant fuel price increases, and also to free the roads from heavy articulated trucks.
In Zambia, the government formalized and agreement on April 25, 2005 with the private sector Northwest Railways Limited to build a new line to serve the Northwest province. The line is intended to serve the copper resources in Kanshansi and Lumwana where Canadian and Australian mining companies have recently started operations.
The world is moving to explore and enjoy the benefits of railway, while Ghana’s Railway is grinding to a halt. The Nsawam-Kumasi portion of the Eastern Line, and the entire Central Line from Huni-Valley to Kotoku have collapsed. The Western Line – Takoradi-Kumasi and Awaso branch, the only operating Line – is anything but satisfactory.
Daily Graphic - Wednesday, March 21, 2007. Pages 16, 33 and 34