By A Correspondent- Plans are underway to capacitate the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) that will result in the revival of abandoned passenger services to ease the pressure on the country’s major highways, Vice- President Dr Constantino Chiwenga has said.
The once popular and affordable intercity passenger train services were stopped at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 to contain the spread of the virus.
However, even before the outbreak of the pandemic, the company was struggling. It was facing operational challenges that included obsolete equipment, its coaches and engines had long overstayed their life spans the tracks needed major repair works and trains were forced to reduce speed to 10km per hour at some sections.
Vandalism and theft of critical railway equipment have also been blamed for the poor state of the company which at its peak, used to have more than 21 000 employees, becoming the second biggest employer in the country after the civil service.
Dr Chiwenga was addressing hundreds of Zanu-PF supporters at a rally in Cowdray Park on Sunday where he was drumming up support for party candidates who will represent the revolutionary party at this weekend’s by-elections. In Cowdray Park, the party will be represented by Arthur Mujeyi in the National Assembly elections with Kidwell Mujuru standing in the local Government elections.
It is one of five constituencies in the city that will have by-elections, with the other being Nketa where Zanu-PF will be represented by Albert Mavunga, Lobengula-Magwegwe where Menziwe Dube will stand for the party, Bulawayo South where former Deputy Minister of Industry and Commerce Raj Modi went in unopposed when the party held its primary elections.
The last constituency is Mpopoma-Mzilikazi with Zanu-PF set to be represented by Dzingai Kamamba. Dr Chiwenga said the Government has taken a deliberate position to make sure the economically cheaper and safer passenger train services were brought back with the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development being allocated funds by the treasury.
In his 2024 budget presentation last Thursday, the Minister of Finance and Economic Development Professor Mthuli Ncube announced that $1,2 trillion has been allocated to the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development to facilitate the rehabilitation and construction of transport infrastructure such as roads, ports of entry, airports, as well as facilitate the turnaround of the NRZ.
“What will excite you which I am going to say now is that we have taken a position that soon, our railway line from Harare to this great City of Bulawayo will be repaired as we bring back our passenger train.
The Government will give the transport ministry as well as the NRZ money so that they immediately get into the project of rehabilitating the railway line so that our trains are back on the rail again,” said Dr Chiwenga.
He said that once fully rehabilitated, use of the railway transport system will ease the burden on the country’s major highways while also providing a cheaper and safer way of travel for the people and the goods.
“So, we have a specific project that our railway system should be back to its yesteryear situation by this coming year. Various sectors such as Agriculture, and mining you name them have turned the corner which means there will need a reliable transport system to move this bulk cargo which is where the NRZ comes in. Pressure on our highways will be eased and the roads will have a longer life span,” said Dr Chiwenga.
NRZ spokesperson Mr Andrew Kunambura said the company was prioritising repairing of cautions and the works have seen a significant number of kilometres being covered
“Treasury has availed financial resources towards the resuscitation of the NRZ. So, our priority in this direction is repairing of cautions whose progress is going on well, the return of both inter and intracity city train is imminent now,” said Mr Kanambura.
In 2022, the Government and India signed a US$81,2 million deal that will see the NRZ receiving 315 wagons, nine locomotives, and DMU passenger coaches.
The NRZ already has plans to increase its freight capacity back to volumes of 18 million tonnes a year achieved in the 1990s. At present, the company is only moving around three million tonnes a year, a far cry from the huge volumes it carried in its heyday.
A combination of vandalism of infrastructure and underfunding have crippled the NRZ’s operations in recent years, resulting in businesses resorting to expensive road freight service.
Last month President Mnangagwa approved the appointment of Mrs Molly Dingani to the NRZ board where she comes in as the deputy chairperson, replacing General William Dube whose term of office had expired. Mr Mike Madiro chairs the NRZ board.