The National Railway of Zimbabwe (NRZ)’s entire railway system has been run down to a point where enginemen have to resort to using cellphones to communicate, Transport and Infrastructural Development minister Obert Mpofu has revealed. Mpofu said the railway system was in a deplorable state and needed a complete overhaul.
By Musa Dube
“The entire railway system of this country needs to be rehabilitated and we are talking of the signals and everything that would make the trains move. Currently there are no signals and trains just pass by where there are no signals and sometimes they [enginemen] have to use cellphones to communicate,” said Mpofu while addressing the Bulawayo Matabeleland business community and other stakeholders.
He said the rail system had become a death trap for travellers.
“Just now we were at Heany Junction where there was a derailment and the railway system was disjointed.The train came when it was like that and it derailed into the bush. Is that what we want? No,” said the minister.
He said government had engaged the Development Bank of South Africa (DBSA) for the provision of between US$450 and US$700 million to bankroll the rehabilitation of NRZ.
“I beg those [striking workers]who are at the NRZ to please be patient,” said Mpofu, adding that he was hopeful the mega deal with DBSA would be signed soon.
The deal is expected to breathe a new lease of life to NRZ’s nagging operational woes which have seen workers at the parastatal going for months without getting paid.
Mpofu chided NRZ employees for staging protests over outstanding salaries at a time the government was in delicate negotiations with DBSA to revive the parastatal, saying the action would scare away the investor.
NRZ is struggling with a US$144 million debt. It recorded a US$17 million deficit in the first five months of 2014, after generating US$44 million and spending US$61 million.
The NRZ needs money to renew its aged lines and fleet which has wagons that are over 40 years old. The parastatal ferried about 3,6 million tonnes of goods last year, against a target of 6 million tonnes.
This is a far cry from the business it recorded in 1998, when the NRZ moved 18 million tonnes of freight.