NRZ using letters for railroad signals

The National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) is relying on letters to communicate with train operators, risking derailment and collisions, board chairman Larry Mavhima has told Parliament.

National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) trains
National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) trains

Giving oral evidence before the parliamentary portfolio committee on Transport on Monday, Mavhima said the ailing parastatal desperately needs $400 million to turn around its waning fortunes.

NRZ is currently saddled with a $176 million debt.

“Our infrastructure is now old,” Mavhima said.

“Our centralised train control system which we had to monitor the movement of our trains has since collapsed.

“With this system, we could monitor the speed of our trains and if they were in the right track?

“If not, those in the control centre would inform the operators to reduce speed and so forth. But this whole system collapsed. That’s the truth.

“What we have now is a system that we originated, we can see where the train is, but we can’t communicate with the operator,” Mavhima said.

“We can’t determine what speed that train is moving at. Our workers are actually given letters, which say ‘go this way and when you reach that 20km peg slow down, from 40km an hour move now at 10km an hour because ahead rail is not straight and you could derail’. Some we give them this information but some forget and only recall when it’s too late.”

Railroad signals may be of the searchlight, colour light, position light, or colour position light types, each displaying a variety of aspects which inform the locomotive engineer of track conditions so that he or she may keep their train under control and able to stop short of any obstruction or dangerous condition.

Mavhima said the spectre of derailments had become high by the heavy rains which had washed away track ballast — crushed stone which form the track-bed upon which railroad ties are laid.

This had left the railway line no longer straight, needing the train operator to negotiate the line at a very slow speed, Mavhima said.

The NRZ board chairman bemoaned that State-owned firm had not had any meaningful injection of capital over the last 25 years, resulting in poor service delivery and failure to compete effectively.

NRZ currently owes its workers $99 million.

The parastatal’s fleet of 166 locomotives is down to 60 and whose age is between 33 and 50 years against a useful life of 25 years.

Out of a fleet of 283 passenger coaches for different classes, only 106 are in use and these are in a very poor state.

“We are looking for a waiver of diesel import for locomotives to make our services as attractive as possible. Need for sovereign guarantee of up to $400m, in the event that a straight loan is secured.

“Everything is premised on the recapitalisation of NRZ and we cannot emphasize the need to shareholders (government) to take a proactive position in this endeavour,” Mavhima said.

Chairman of the Transport committee, Zanu PF Chegutu West legislator Dexter Nduna, said the parastatal needed to be innovative to raise revenue.

“ . . . you need to answer on what you got from 700 000 metric tonnes on grain importation. We need to know how much of that grain you transported.

“Of the 30 million raw chrome, how much of it is going to be transported by you?

“How much nickel are you transporting and how much are you generating?”

Mavhima said the board would return with the figures.

Last year, the volume of goods moved by NRZ tumbled to 2,8 million tonnes from 3,5 million in 2014.

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