Navigating Innovations and Safety in Namibian Railway Transport

Gideon Kapuka

If we take a good, hard look at Namibia’s passenger rail transport, the interplay of physical and economic features underscores the Desert Express train as an indispensable player.

Examining it through the lens of tourism, the nation must prioritise innovation in social and economic facets to not just provide a reliable service, but one that is also attractive, comfortable and efficient.

The undeniable role of railway transport in a country’s economic growth and social development necessitates a perpetual quest for improvement.

In the context of Namibia’s predominantly freight-oriented rail service, passenger services typically cater to the needs of long-distance economic class travellers. The emergence of the Desert Express, tailored for the leisure and tourist market, is testament to the nation’s commitment to diversifying its railway options. Establishing seamless connections with other modes of transport, such as airports, bus terminals and tourist attractions, is crucial to enhance the accessibility and appeal of the Desert Express for both domestic and international travellers.


Ensuring the safety of both cargo and passengers is a non-negotiable aspect of rail transport.

Every entity within the railway ecosystem, from carriers to infrastructure maintainers, rolling stock manufacturers, certification bodies and scientific units, plays a critical role in upholding and elevating security levels.

Challenges abound in maintaining safety standards, including the need for regular maintenance of tracks and rolling stock, stringent safety protocols and addressing potential security threats.

In addition, navigating bureaucratic hurdles and regulatory compliance can pose significant challenges to implementing safety innovations effectively.

Transport safety is a collaborative effort. It requires not only carriers, but various entities responsible for different facets of the railway landscape.

Regular monitoring and evaluation of safety measures are essential to identify potential risks and to proactively address them.

Utilising advanced technologies such as sensors, CCTV cameras and data analytics can enhance monitoring capabilities, enabling real-time detection of safety issues and swift response mechanisms.


The implementation of innovations is a nuanced and multifaceted process dependent on numerous factors.

TransNamib’s modernity can serve as a competitive advantage, placing a keen focus on delivering quality and innovative solutions for clients.

However, limited financial resources, technological constraints, and resistance to change within an organisational culture can impede the pace of innovation.

Overcoming these challenges requires strategic planning, investment in research and development and fostering a culture of innovation across all levels of the organisation.

The effectiveness of safety innovations is contingent on the quality and reliability of the railway infrastructure.

Investing in modernising and upgrading railway tracks, signalling systems, and station facilities is essential to support the implementation of innovative safety measures.

Moreover, integrating digital technologies such as predictive maintenance systems and automated safety controls can optimise infrastructure utilisation and enhance safety outcomes.


Despite the critical importance of safety and innovation in passenger railway transport, budgetary constraints often limit the scope and pace of initiatives in these areas.

Statistics provided by finance minister Iipumbu Shiimi, who tabled a N$100,1 billion national budget for the year 2024 – 2025, indicate that only about N$3,25 billion was allocated to the transport sector for this financial year.

Such limited funding poses a significant challenge to implementing necessary safety upgrades and innovative initiatives in the railway sector.

Budget cuts may result in deferred maintenance, reduced investment in technology upgrades, and downsizing of safety personnel, thereby compromising safety standards.

Railway operators face a perennial challenge in finding a balance between cost-saving measures and maintaining adequate safety measures.

It requires careful budget allocation and the prioritisation of resources to address critical needs.


Despite insights from decision-makers, researchers and economists on the importance and advantages of innovation and safety in passenger railway transport, insufficient attention has been given to aspects related to national economic development and tourist attraction.

Most available research tends to focus on metros, railway stations, high-speed and urban trains, primarily based on cases from developed countries. Cross-sectional research on local trains is scarce.

Therefore, there’s a need to focus on determining the scope for innovation on the Desert Express tourist passenger train, identifying barriers to innovation to further enhance safety and understanding travellers’ views and expectations on further innovations.

Effective transport management is paramount: Identifying barriers to innovation to enhance train safety, exploring travellers’ views, and investigating travellers’ expectations on future innovations is unexplored territory.

  • * Gideon Kapuka is a researcher, writer, and business consultant;

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