BY NQOBANI NDLOVU
ZIMBABWE’s rail parastatal is registering huge losses annually in the passenger train business, a situation further compounded by lack of government financial support, a National Railways of Zimbabwe official has said.
Government is a major shareholder at the NRZ, whose passenger trains ply the Harare-Bulawayo, Harare-Mutare and Bulawayo-Victoria Falls routes.
Government also re-launched the intra-city commuter trains, popularly known as “Freedom Trains” in Bulawayo to provide cheap transport services after urban commuters were subjected to incessant fare hikes by public commuter operators.
The service had been suspended in 2014 after the project proved unviable.
“Generally, throughout the world, passenger trains are loss-making entities,” NRZ general manager Lewis Mukwada told journalists in Bulawayo on Wednesday.
“Lack of government financial support has further piled NRZ’s woes despite repeated calls for a bailout,” Mukwada added, before describing the passenger train services as a community service with no significant revenue inflows.
“It’s like a growth point; for a growth point to take up, you can’t put a tollgate specifically for that growth point. Government has to put up the roads through the District Development Fund (DDF) and then basic infrastructure — so similarly with passenger trains; they are all loss-making.
“Government in 1997 said they would give railways a shortfall of the money they make and what they spent to make up for passenger trains, but they have not been in a position to do that, but then; it’s the burden we have to carry,” Mukwada said.
He added that the NRZ management had since submitted papers to the Finance ministry through the Transport ministry, in terms of the operation of commuter trains.
“They (Finance ministry) said you can submit your case and we went through the Ministry of Transport and demonstrated our figures and the papers are now with the Ministry of Finance. So we are operating with the expectation that the ministry will consider the issue of commuter trains,” Mukwada said.
Analysts allege that mismanagement has taken its toll on the rail transporter, which at its peak moved 18 million tonnes of freight annually.
Most of the NRZ’s diesel and electrical locomotives are out of service, while passenger and freight services are constantly cancelled.
Other challenges facing the parastatal include the widespread collapse of rail infrastructure, vandalised communication equipment and dilapidated yard facilities.
NRZ is now finalising a $400 million recapitalisation deal with the Diaspora Infrastructure Development Group and Transnet Consortium.