Chinese Infrastructure Provision to the Global South and the Setting of Rail Standards

One of the hallmark project types of the Belt and Road Initiative, driven by the People’s Republic of China, is the construction of railways to connect developing countries to markets using high-speed rail where possible, and often using standard-gauge rail, which is sometimes different from existing infrastructure. As African countries – and the continent at large – face decisions about how to move ahead with railway development, lessons can be learned from the projects underway in the Trans-Asian Railway Network, a 1960s plan to expand railways across Asia and toward Europe in a world where railway standards globally – not just in China – are coalescing around high-speed, standard gauge rail. Strong regional planning, transparency in procurement and planning, and improving cross-border trade facilitation and domestic economic planning will be key to successful dialogue with suppliers of rail systems wherever they should come from.