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Don’t sit in the Cigar bar and Wait for HPX Solution

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By Cyrus L. Gray

Over the week, we heard of HPX’s prospects of investing $5B in Liberia. Great News but I am reminded of similar statements in entry meetings going way back to 2006 and 2018, by other prospectors. As a principal of a Liberian Supply Chain corporation (TransAfrica Trading Liberia LLC,) I and others are looking forward to HPX unpacking the $5B in real terms.

This much I can say, based on my extensive understanding of the supply chain infrastructure business and landscape. By building a new rail corridor, HPX might just be talking about extending the rail from the northern tip of the Yekepa to Buchanan rail line into Guinea. Building a parallel rail alongside the existing Yekepa to Buchanan rail line is out of the question. For one, it will require Arcelor Mittl literally shutting down the use of the rail for a prolonged period to accommodate the civil works required to build a new rail line alongside. Secondly, time is not on our side.

The Guineans are already building their rail line from Simandou/Zogota to Conakry, and I am 100% certain that when that corridor is completed, Guinea will not allow her iron ore to transit Liberia. The Guineans know fully well the value chain that the use of Guinea rural territory for modern rail and road brings to their economy, irrespective of the distance to Conakry. What makes Liberia favorable today to the Guinean iron ore investors is the existing rail line to the port of Buchanan (early to market) not the short distance.

Spending years building a new railroad makes no business sense. Rather than opening the champaign over HPX $5b story, Liberia needs to establish a vehicle for the planning and management of its railroad (logistics) potential while the opportunity is still there. Legislate the formation of the Liberia Railroad Authority and partner with known railway infrastructure and management companies to organize and operate a multiuser rail corridor such that it does not hamper Arcelor Mittal ability to fully utilize the rail corridor while allowing for the use of the facilities by others like HPX.

If HPX really have the bucks, we can purpose some to strengthening the existing rail line but more importantly add more exchange points (substation) and develop railway traffic management and maintenance outfit under the National Railroad Authority or a joint venture designed to purpose. Sitting in the cigar bar and waiting for HPX to bring us a solution in this space of contesting interests is a sure way to get nothing out of this opportunity that has been lingering for well over 50 years.

Remember the Chinese are already digging through tunnels in Guinea’s Futa Jallon region and running rails. It is now just a matter of time. We better act decisively, expediently and be intentional or companies in the Nimba Range will soon be looking at using Guinea rail as an export option (Image of Yekepa to Buchannan rail corridor; courtesy of International Railway Journal – IRJ).

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