Frédéric Priest (Colas Rail): “Facilitating access to sustainable transport solutions for Africans is essential”

Colas is a major player in the construction and maintenance of transport infrastructure. Its Colas Rail division specializes in rail projects. In recent years the firm has passed a number of milestones, from building the first African high-speed line in Morocco, to the construction of the Cairo metro. Colas Rail’s director of Africa development, Frédéric Priest, took us through the company’s recent projects on the continent.

Posted Tuesday, December 3rd 2019
Frédéric Priest (Colas Rail): “Facilitating access to sustainable transport solutions for Africans is essential”

Africa is, even as we approach 2020, still the continent with the weakest infrastructure network in the world. What is Colas doing to help close the gap?

Frédéric Priest. As an industry leader, our responsibility is to facilitate access to responsible forms of mobility. This is notably the case in Africa, where Colas has been present for more than 45 years. Harnessing our expertise and ability to innovate, Colas creates long term value for all stakeholders (commuters, customers and partners etc.) in Africa. Our strategic axes (promoting industrial activities, enlarging our range of projects and innovative transport solutions, targeted development and digital transformation etc.) have allowed Colas to invent tomorrow’s transport today, by offering high value-added solutions.


Colas Rail mainly works in North Africa. Do you intend to expand your presence to the entire continent in years to come?

Actually, Colas Rail is already present in sub-Saharan Africa, where we won our first tender in 2018. We designed and have just built a railway line for a Guinean mining company called Guinea Alumina Corporation. The success of Colas Rail in Guinea is down to our winning strategy of development based on the competitive advantages we have accumulated throughout the course of our various African projects in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt and our large and expanding presence on the ground in Africa.


How can we improve transport networks in African cities?

Even moreso than in other parts of the world, African capitals are where the main political and economic life of a country takes place. Their growth presents a significant problem, from an urban congestion perspective. The challenge is to be able to offer a diversified, integrated transportation network. The rail component of a transport network has the capacity to significantly increase traffic flow, thanks to dedicated lines offering intelligent, connected (with, for example, real-time traffic management), inclusive and environmentally friendly mobility.   


Could you tell us more about Colas Rail’s sustainable transport projects.

The company has delivered a number of prestigious projects. One of the biggest was the LGV Tangier-Casablanca railway, the first-ever high-speed line in Africa. This project had a strong sustainable development aspect and a high level of engagement with the local population throughout, engagements we also respected during construction of the tramway lines in Rabat and Casablanca, and the metro in Cairo. In addition, we are proud to have partnered Bouygues on the development of the Abidjan metro. By facilitating access to transport, this project has contributed to promoting a model of the livable city for Ivorians.


What Africa-specific challenges do railroad builders face?

In our experience there are three principal challenges: anticipation, logistics and execution. A high degree of preparation is crucial to the success of any project in Africa. The ability to rapidly mobilize equipment and personnel is of equal importance. Colas Rail Africa has 1,500 employees including 200 African technicians and engineers. This gives us a formidable fighting force to carry out our projects. And finally, the proper execution of works requires detailed planning and must take into account the real-time issues that affect construction sites. The lessons learned from our many infrastructure projects in Africa has allowed Colas Rail to turn challenges into opportunities.