Office: (44) (0) 5603 676623  |  Independent Communications Consultancy based Westminster, London SW1
Office: (44) (0) 5603 676623  |  Independent Communications Consultancy based Westminster, London SW1

Digital Communications Index: Sudanese Railways

MENA Railways Digital Communications Index: Sudan

 

 

All images on this page © Sudanese Railways Corporation (SRC) unless stated. 

Introduction

A Chinese DMU arrives in Khartoum station in 2014 (AFP photo, click to enlarge)

There are freight and passenger trains in Sudan, over 4000kms of railway line, but you wouldn’t know anything about any of it from SRC’s digital communications. There is evidence of half-hearted efforts but nothing of any use to potential passengers or freight customers. 

I’ve said many times the health of a country’s railway system can be a good indicator of the general health of the country. This is because so many sophisticated tasks must combine in order for a railway system to function: such as general security; accountancy; electrical and mechanical engineering; and telecommunications. I’m reviewing the different MENA railway systems as a way to help understand the differences between these countries, rather than looking at them as a pan-Arab whole. 

Because I’m doing this in a spirit of genuine inquiry, and with a predisposition to appreciate any professional progress I find, both in the railway operations and in the digital communications, I’ve  come away from Sudan disappointed. In addition to searching the official channels and platforms, I’ve taken the opportunity to search generally for anything on digital/social media about Sudanese railways and there is very little. For example there is no fan content. Perhaps the system has been in decline for so long it is little loved. 

Of course I know the history of Sudan and understand the huge problems facing its inhabitants and specifically railway workers at all levels. Political meddling disrupted the careers of skilled workers; the US/Western embargo denied spare parts for rolling stock and destroyed operational effectiveness beginning in 1990. Add to the ruinous road competition and a long civil war that led to the creation of South Sudan, and it is not surprising Sudan’s railways are in a sorry state. In recent years China has helped with investment in new trains and engineering support, as well as plans for major new railway lines. 

But for the purposes of the MENA Railways Digital Communications Index, Sudan Railways Corporation scores a very disappointing 2/12 and I’m no closer to discovering what happens on the railways in this enormous country. Even the Wikipedia entry is 10 years out-of-date. 

1. Is there a website?

A Chinese DMU forms an Atbara-Port Sudan service in 2013 (click to enlarge)

Yes, there is a website, with Arabic and English versions, so score 1 point. 

The website has a copyright date of 2019 but looks like a work in progress. Websites are seldom ever ‘finished’, insofar as they constantly evolve to reflect the business, but this website hasn’t actually finished its first iteration. While there is some content, it is of no use to the traveller or freight customer. There are no maps or timetables. There is no blog explaining what the railways are doing. There are placeholders visible on various pages, where elements on the website template haven’t been edited or deleted. The social media icons link to nowhere, even though there is a Facebook page. In short, it looks as if the developer left the project before completing the website. 

Finally for the website, my Mac refused to take me to the URL because it was unsecure, possibly because of an expired or missing SSL certificate. I had to persevere to reach the site itself.

2. Is the website ‘alive’?

No. While there is some content, such as a few newspapers (PDF files), there is nothing to confirm whether anyone is paying attention to the website or that anyone is updating it even occasionally. There is no timetable information. For these reasons, I can’t say the website is ‘alive’. 

3. Is there an app? No.

4. Can you buy tickets online? No

5. Is there live running information? No

6. Is there a Twitter account? No

7. Is there a Facebook page?

Semaphore signals stand guard at Sennar Junction Sudan in May 2019 (click to enlarge)

Yes, find it here (in English and Arabic)

There are some nice posts covering a few years, complete with photos, but nothing since May 2019. Whoever was running the Facebook page attracted over 2000 followers and there was some engagement, so well done. There is no operational information for passengers. I’m going to be very generous here and give 1 point, because this Facebook account has been active. But truly, a dead account is of no use to anyone.

8. Is there a YouTube channel?

No. However SRC links to a very good thorough documentary by Jazeera TV about Sudanese railways made in about 2016. It’s in Arabic only, but worth looking at for some background on the railways around Atbara.

9. Is there an Instagram account? No

10. Can you subscribe to a newsletter? 

Unsure. Technically, there is a space on the website (both Arabic and English versions) where you can give your email address for a newsletter. Given the unfinished nature of the website however, I suspect this section was simply part of the template the developer started to use. So I did not want to submit my email address and am not giving a point for this section. 

11. Is there evidence of any campaigns? No

12. Overall engagement. 

I’ve looked and I couldn’t find any current signs of engagement on any channel or platform. Please point me towards any sources you know I might have missed. 

Conclusion. 

It’s a pity such a large railway operation is – for all intents and purposes – invisible to outsiders. By that I don’t just mean outsiders as in foreigners, but also outsiders within Sudan who want to find out about train times, fares or freight opportunities. It is also important to remember that SRC’s score of 2/12 is near bottom in this MENA Railways Digital Communications Index but that doesn’t put it in last position. 

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