Johannesburg, London, Dubai – 25 June 2024: Thelo Group, the African transport and logistics solutions provider for freight owners, has announced the expansion of its offering to deliver integrated (rail, port and rolling stock), multi-freight, multi-user transport corridors to efficiently move Africa’s valuable resources at economies of scale. These resources are largely mining commodities, agricultural produce, containers and bulk liquids.

Thelo’s offering of interconnected transport corridors is in response to Africa’s transportation challenges and a strategic move to support Africa’s Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA)’s single market. As a result of AfCFTA1 , the transport sector is expected to expand by nearly 50%, significantly boosting intra-African trade. But its success hinges on improving Africa’s road, rail and transport infrastructure; a challenge that Thelo is actively addressing. Currently, transportation costs related to logistics in Africa are up to 75% higher than in other parts of the world2.

Ronnie Ntuli, Chairman of Thelo Group, said: “We are mobilising capital from investors in Africa and internationally, and leveraging world-class engineering and operational capacity to create large-scale interconnected transport and logistics corridors for Africa. As an independent African company, Thelo is playing an instrumental role in developing, operating and managing national and regional development corridors”.

Importantly, Thelo’s multi freight, multi-user approach will deliver more efficient transport solutions to multiple freight owners at economies of scale that will reduce transport and logistic costs.

Thelo Group, bolstered by its strategic partnerships, stands out as one of the rare African entities with the capability and expertise to execute large-scale infrastructure projects across the entire delivery value chain. This includes planning, design and engineering, EPC oversight, testing and commissioning, training, operations and maintenance management.

Mr Ntuli continued: “Our skills, capacity and years of experience in this sector, together with our deep understanding of Africa’s transport and logistics infrastructure market sets us apart and gives us a leading advantage.”

“By bringing world-class global expertise and capacity to the African railway and ports sector, we are the right strategic partner for investors in Africa’s transport and logistics sector.”

In order to enhance its delivery model, Thelo will transform its relationship with DB Engineering & Consulting (DB E&C), a subsidiary of the Deutsche Bahn Group A. G. (DB), from an equity joint venture to an exclusive strategic partnership. DB E&C will be Thelo’s technical partner across sub-Saharan Africa to develop, manage and deliver engineering, technical and consulting capacity, as well as to enhance the operational efficiencies of Thelo’s railway sector projects.

Stefan Geisperger, Managing Director for International Markets at DB Engineering & Consulting, said: “Our global and long-standing experience and expertise in the railway sector, coupled with our ongoing valued relationship with Thelo, is crucial for delivering on Africa’s critical need for integrated transport infrastructure. Deutsche Bahn remains firmly committed to our partnership with Thelo in Africa under our newly restructured and exclusive partnership.”

Commenting on Thelo’s partnership with Germany’s Deutsche Bahn, Mr Ntuli said: “Thelo is honoured by DB’s continued commitment to our partnership in the sub-Saharan region of Africa and we are thrilled to continue working together on an exclusive basis with arguably the world’s leading fully intergrated, global railway conglomerate. With the Group’s depth of global experience and expertise, built over 180 years in the mobility sector, DB is the best partner for Thelo to work with in developing integrated transport and logistics infrastructure on the continent of Africa.”

With trains operating in multiple jurisdictions in Southern Africa, Thelo has, over many years, built its capacity internally for Thelo Rolling Stock. The Group continues to finance rolling stock (locomotives and freight wagons) through lease arrangements with rail operators and freight owners. It is advancing negotiations to establish strategic partnerships for its ports vision.

The company’s strategic vision is to spearhead Africa’s transport and logistics, support the continent’s long-term growth and economic development, and to drive socio-economic progress by connecting rural communities in agriculture and mining rich areas.

The scale of Africa’s transport and logistics challenges are evident and, the establishment of the AfCFTA is expected to increase intra-Africa trade by 81% by 20353 , emphasising the vital importance of various transport modes, including rail, ports and rolling stock. As a result of the AfCFTA4 , the transport sector is expected to expand by nearly 50%. Compounding the scale of Africa’s challenge, the African Development Bank estimates that road, air, rail and port infrastructure requires investment of US$35 to $47 billion per year5 .

Most of Africa’s freight is bulk commodities from the agricultural and minerals sectors including strategic minerals for export. However, the continent’s current rail transport network is dilapidated, resulting in lots of stranded freight. National operators also lack sufficient capacity to move freight, leading to a huge reliance on trucks and the road network, which transport 80% of goods. Thelo Group’s rail transport and infrastructure development projects aim to address these issues, offering a more efficient and cost-effective solution that will significantly reduce the reliance on trucks and improve the overall transportation of goods.

Thelo Group enjoys partnerships with the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), which has 10% ownership of Thelo Rolling Stock, and a Memorandum of Understanding with the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank), which, in alignment with its pillar of financing trade enabling infrastructure, is acting as mandated lead arranger and adviser for Thelo’s rail corridor and infrastructure development projects.

Thelo is building closer links with governments and other stakeholders, offering a reliable partner to secure long-term development and operational rights.

The company showcases its transformational transport and logistics capabilities, backed by a proven track record, to development finance institutions, multilateral finance institutions, export credit agencies and banks. Thelo also extends its collaborative relationships with large mining companies, agri-producers, freight owners, shipping and transport companies.

About Thelo Group
Thelo, an African transport and logistics solutions provider, is developing integrated rail, port and rolling stock multi-freight, multi-user transport corridors to move Africa’s mining commodities, agricultural produce, containers and bulk fuels for freight owners and transport companies. Thelo has the skills, capacity, experience and expertise to develop, implement and support complex railway and port projects, bringing global experience and capacity to the African railway and ports sector.

Thelo has a compelling track record of providing unique solutions to existing rail operators and freight owners on the African continent, prospective transport infrastructure projects, developers and financiers. The Group places particular emphasis on transportation and logistics and is committed to facilitating the movement of freight for import and export and in support of economic development and the African Continental Free Trade Area’s (AfCTA) single market.

Thelo Group’s subsidiaries include:

For further information:

Lynette Lambert
Brand Communications
Landline no: +44 (0) 20 7638 6856
Mobile no: +971 55 204 3255

1 African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) to significantly increase traffic flows on all transport modes | United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (
2 AfCFTA’s Potential Solutions in Solving Africa’s Logistics Challenges (
3 Trade Pact Could Boost Africa’s Income by $450 Billion, Study Finds (
4 African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) to significantly increase traffic flows on all transport modes | United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (
5 African Economic Outlook 2018 (African Development Bank

The transport sector is a vital facilitator in the acceleration of trade across Africa. For land-based transport – railways are ideal for mass transit in and around urban areas and for transporting freight over long distances. It has significant advantages over road and aviation for many factors including safety, energy efficiency, lower emissions, reduced congestion and lower costs of delivery per kilometer. It does, however, need efficient partnerships with road freight for last mile delivery.

Outdated rail network
As is well documented, Africa’s rail infrastructure, network and rolling stock requires massive investment to bring it up to world standards and to fulfil its potential. It needs massive extension of its network, connectivity and capacity, modernization, rehabilitation, improved maintenance, modern communications, better supply and stocks of spare parts and more rolling stock, maintenance vehicles and equipment. Further, interoperability is impeded both by the differing gauges in use and the incidence of many single track non-electrified networks, with the latter requiring diesel locomotives.

AfCFTA incentivisation
With the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) progressively removing tariffs and addressing non-tariff trade barriers, the UN Economic Commission for Africa predicts that it will increase intra-African trade by about 40%1. Unsurprisingly, this would also significantly increase traffic flows and transport equipment needs across road, rail, shipping and aviation.

Catching up to what is needed is a tall order, but so too is a change in mindset. Africa’s population – and therefore consumer demand – is rapidly growing, while the gathering momentum of urbanization continues to accelerate, as does the demand for industrial parks, special economic zones and ports. These structural changes need to be accompanied by an ecosystem development approach. It shouldn’t just be about building the new industrial park, factory or whatever. To realize maximum potential, they also need the social and economic infrastructure – the residential housing, shops, schools, doctors, power, telecoms, ICT, water supply and sanitation, roads, rail and more.

Identifying the rail projects and requirements

ALG, a global consultancy focused on transportation, infrastructure and logistics, deems2 the areas in Africa most appropriate to railway projects to be:

A 2020 report3 by the World Bank stated that railways need to be ‘reliable, low-cost service providers on key transport arteries and interact seamlessly with road carriers to deliver door-to-door service to the customer … critical hubs must be developed to consolidate freight. They need to be located to be convenient for the customers (not just the railway) and the overall transport service needs to be tailored to the particular requirements of individual customers or groups of customers. Many railways in sub-Saharan Africa are locating container hubs in inland cities. The railway typically moves the containers between the hub and a port, and the hub may also be a dry port offering customers clearance services.’

Further, the World Bank report forecast that the renaissance and transformation of sub-Saharan Africa’s railways requires the implementation of three elements – good governance, adequate funding and building traffic – to enable them to contribute to economic growth in a climate-friendly way and to enhance transport to improve lives.

Indeed, for Africa’s 17 landlocked countries, their economic development is especially reliant upon efficient freight transport corridors with sufficient capacity to link them to maritime ports and other countries.

Gaining market share from road freight
Currently the majority of on-land African freight transport is carried by road, emphasizing the potential for rail, especially for long distance deliveries. Over the 14-year period 2006 to 2019, annual African rail freight carried remained in the range of 131.08 to 156.97 billion tonne kilometers4.

To redress the balance and attract greater market share – when the rail network and capacity is in place – Africa’s railways need to compete on transport cost (including last mile), delivery time, service frequency and reliability. With sufficient investment the prize is there.

Thelo DB is ideally positioned to meet the challenges and provide the solutions to Africa’s railway network, infrastructure and operational needs. We have the skills, capacity, experience and expertise to develop, implement and support complex freight and/or passenger railway projects across Africa, from concept through to design and engineering, financing, procurement, testing and commissioning, operations and maintenance, as well as skills development. Our capabilities include urban passenger rail, regional and long-distance passenger rail, freight rail and all associated infrastructure, such as track and network, signaling and telecommunications, depots, stations and civil structures, energy and power. Additionally, our sister company, Thelo Rolling Stock can finance the rolling stock to provide customers with effective, reliable, high-quality equipment, as well as ensuring that workshops, supply chains and training for maintenance are available in the countries where the rolling stock is used.

Railways have high fixed costs, particularly in respect of infrastructure, but comparatively low variable costs, thus positioning them favorably for dense traffic flows. There is no doubt that Africa’s railways can play a major role in the facilitation of trade and economic development, but significant investments are needed, and the resultant capacity needs to be utilized. In the words of Lalu Prasad Yadav: “Wagon is the bread-earning horse of the Railways. Load it adequately. Make it run and don’t stable it.”

1 African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) to significantly increase traffic flows on all transport modes | United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (
2 Rail Infrastructure in Africa – Shaping Future (
3 World Bank Document
4 Rail freight traffic: Africa 2019 | Statista

A well-functioning railway is widely recognized to be a driver of economic growth as it allows people to travel more widely for work and move goods between suppliers, manufacturers and customers reliably and efficiently. Additionally, in this era of increasing focus on environmental and climate issues, railways provide an impactful solution as a low carbon system of transport infrastructure as the least environmentally damaging way of moving large volumes of goods over long distances.

In cities, rail is unrivalled in its ability to transport large volumes of passengers and reduce congestion, while also being safer than road transport and significantly less damaging to air quality. Freight rail is an environmentally friendly alternative to long-distance inland road freight transport and high-speed rail is a low-carbon alternative to aviation for intra-continental trips.

Rail is one of the most energy-efficient transport modes, responsible for 9% of global motorized passenger movement and 7% of freight but only 3% of transport energy use1. But Africa’s railways are operating from a low base compared to global standards. It is estimated that Africa has only 75,000 kilometers of rail – which is less than China has on its highspeed railway – while the US has over 250,000 kilometers of rail2. When you consider that Africa is over three times the area of the US (at 30.37 million km2 and 9.15 million km2 respectively) but has less than a third of the rail network, it portrays the scale of Africa’s rail deficit.

It goes beyond just expanding Africa’s rail network, there is also the need to rehabilitate and modernize many of the existing legacy assets. Track components are aged; there are a lack of spare parts and a shortage of rolling stock, equipment and maintenance vehicles; signaling and telecom systems require replacing; there are inadequate maintenance/renovation programs; and rail infrastructure lacks uniformity. All these factors have safety and efficiency implications, while the network deficit and lack of capacity further impedes railways’ ability to fully compete with road haulage.

Cross-border trade freight via rail in some African countries is also handicapped by lack of connectivity and interoperability, while some railways consist of single track non-electrified networks, thus necessitating the use of diesel locomotives. Many of the rail networks are still operating to the standard at which they were built in the colonial era.

Interoperability is also constrained by the use of differing gauges in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Most use either Cape gauge or meter gauge, but there are also several standard gauge lines. For example, the metric gauge is the commonly operated gauge in the WAEMU region, making large axial loads on wagons and trains inoperable.

Most railways in SSA carry significantly more freight than passengers, with freight averaging over 90 percent of total traffic units and being dominated by bulk and semi-bulk commodities, principally to and from ports 3. To fully compete with road and air transport alternatives, rail needs to have reliable, low-cost service providers on key transport arteries and to interact seamlessly with road carriers for last mile delivery to the customer.

At Thelo DB we’re addressing these issues as an African railway entity incorporated between Thelo Group and Germany’s Deutsche Bahn E&C (DB), which is one of the largest, fully integrated railway companies in the world, providing customized and sustainable transport solutions using its global experience and capacity to Africa’s railway market, supporting the development of new railway corridors and enhancing the operational efficiencies of existing networks. We have the skills, capacity, experience and expertise to develop, implement and support complex freight and/or passenger railway projects of any scale in Africa. This includes concept through to design and engineering, financing, procurement, testing and commissioning, operations and maintenance, as well as skills development. Our capabilities include urban passenger rail, regional and long-distance passenger rail, freight rail and all associated infrastructure, such as track and network, signaling and telecommunications, depots, stations and civil structures, energy and power.

Our sister company, Thelo Rolling Stock, is the pre-eminent financier of rolling stock – locomotives, freight wagons, fuel tankers and passenger cars – for rail operators, concession holders and freight owners in Africa, providing customers with effective, reliable, high-quality equipment. It sources its equipment from local and international manufacturers and its partnerships include Transnet Engineering, General Electric / Wabtec, Grindrod and National Railway Equipment. It also ensures that its partners establish workshops, supply chains and training for maintenance in the countries where the rolling stock is deployed, thus transferring skills, as well as creating and preserving jobs for Africans.

1 Tracking Rail 2020 – Analysis – IEA
2 A look at the future of railway technology in Africa – ASME
3 World Bank Document

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