The Chief Engineer of the Ghana Railway Company Limited (GRCL), Mr William Ackun, has called for the immediate suspension of train services on the Accra-Tema railway line until maintenance work is carried out.
The call, he said, had become necessary because the company could not guarantee the safety of trains and passengers who used the track.
Mr Ackun, in a two-page letter to the acting Managing Director of the GRCL in March this year, indicated that commuters using the track could face impending danger of derailment because the curves in the track had not been maintained since it was constructed and handed over to the GRCL in 2010.
“ The track sections; Asaprochona-Tema, and Tema-Community One, have not been effectively maintained ever since they were opened to traffic in November 2010 and April, 2013, respectively.
“It is unsafe to run passenger trains on rail lines on which no effective maintenance has been done, especially on the curves. Running trains daily on a new track without maintenance is risky.
“As it is now, the track’s condition cannot be determined; whether it is safe for the use of trains or not,” the letter further stated.
The 7.1-km Asaprochona-Japan Motors railway line was reconstructed in 2009 at a cost of $14 million by Amandi Holdings Limited and handed over to the government in 2010.
There are 12 curves on the stretch.
Railway experts indicate that most derailments occur in and around the curves on railway tracks.
There are currently two trains that make two trips daily on the Asaprochona-Tema track. Both trains carry about 1,400 passengers daily.
Mr Ackun indicated in the letter that engineers at the GRCL had neither the expertise nor the requisite equipment to carry out such daily maintenance.
Prior to the construction of the Asaprochona-Tema railway line, Mr Ackun had written to the management of the Ghana Railway Development Authority (GRDA) that “the horizontal alignment does not conform to GRCL standards. The transitions are designed with spirals and they often offer better riding quality for high speeds of 80-km an hour and above. However, GRCL does not have the knowledge to maintain the alignment and the consequences could be disastrous after handing over of the track to the GRCL”
The GRDA’s boss, Mr A. A. Sadique, however, dismissed the assertion by the GRCL’s Chief Engineer and said some form of maintenance was being carried out on the track.
“When you build a railway line, you use a design method but you don’t use that same method to maintain the line,” he stated.
He conceded that the track had not been maintained adequately but said there was no danger because few light trains used the track.
He explained that the new design was adopted because it offered a better riding quality and trains could move at 80-km an hour. Ghana’s current coaches, however, move at 56-km an hour.
“We suspected the lines were not being maintained so we wrote to the GRCL and its response was that it was maintaining the tracks,” he stated.
Mr Sadique supported his argument with a letter dated December 4, 2013 and signed by the immediate past Managing Director of the GRCL, Mr Ato Botchey.
When contacted, however, Mr Botchey insisted that the GRCL was maintaining the straight lines. “The curves were the problem,” he said.
Mr Botchey had written to Mr Sadique in December 2013 and copied the Minister of Transport to the effect that “ To date, the permanent staff are unable to do effective maintenance because the GRDA, being the owner of the infrastructure, has not provided maintenance standards for the tracks.”
In that letter, Mr Botchey complained that the GRCL did not have any report of track measurement taken on the Asaprochona-Tema track.
A railway track is composed of tangents (straights) and curves. There is no indication of any survey station on site which can be used to determine the track alignment (position) for maintenance works.
The letter, however, recommended at that time that the design submitted by Amandi, the company engaged for the project, be modified by the GRDA to suit GRCL engineering standards.
Despite the warning from the GRCL, the GRDA went ahead with the project, using the same design.
A more recent letter addressed to the GRCL Managing Director, and signed by the chief civil engineer stated, “It is unsafe to run passenger trains on a rail line where no effective maintenance can be done, especially on the curves.”
According to the letter, the rail line had 12 curves and was designed and reconstructed with clothoid transition curve design principle, whose maintenance was completely different from that of the GRCL.
GRCL standard design
There are two main design concepts in rail line construction and they are the clothoid and cubic parabola transition. The latter is, however, common with Ghana’s railway line system.
In designing the Asaprochona-Tema rail line, Amandi adopted both designs, with the clothoid at the curves, hence the inability of the GRCL to service it.
When contacted, the chief civil engineer confirmed that he had written the letter but declined to make further comments.
He had, however, stated in the same letter, “The mathematical formulation of clothoid is difficult and demands the use of computers.’
He indicated that because of the difficulty in maintaining clothoid rail lines, many countries used the cubic parabola transition.
Credit: Daily Graphic