THE highway between Beitbridge and Masvingo will be temporarily closed today to allow for repairs on the railway line following an accident likely to cost Beitbridge-Bulawayo Railway (BBR) millions of dollars in repairs.
By Rex Mphisa
A detour for buses and smaller cars has been created following the inevitable closure of Zimbabwe’s mainland artery between Pretoria and Harare.
Haulage truck drivers have been asked either to delay or use the Zvishavane or Bulawayo routes, almost an extra 800km to Harare
In a public notice yesterday, the Transport and Infrastructural Development ministry said the road would be closed from 7am to 3pm at the level crossing 5km from the Beitbridge border post where the massive accident occurred.
No lives were lost and only one BBR crew member sustained minor injuries in the accident seven days ago.
A goods train travelling from Bulawayo to South Africa derailed at the level crossing last Sunday afternoon after colliding with a haulage truck, which was racing to beat the train in crossing. The road was blocked for 16 hours.
Work to clear the road passage was concluded on Monday, but the railway line remained blocked after the line and locomotives were extensively damaged.
Work to clear the line started yesterday after huge cranes were brought in from Harare, making the level crossing resemble a mini-industrial area.
BBR chief executive Thembi Moyo, could not immediately provide the quantum of the damages although experts said it could run into millions.
“Work on lifting the wreckage from the site of Sunday’s collision between a South Africa-bound goods train and a haulage vehicle near Beitbridge is in progress. Heavy lifting began on Friday after we secured heavy-duty cranes from Harare,” Moyo said.
Two locomotives and six loaded wagons were to be lifted and open space for line repairs, she said.
Moyo was not sure when the line, which was built to create the shortest rail route between Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe with South African ports, would be ready for use.
“It will only be possible to make an informed guess about how long it will take to reopen the line once the wreckage has been lifted off it. This was a major accident, which has caused damage not only to the derailed locomotives and wagons, but to about 160 metres of railway track,” she said in an interview.
“As the accident occurred at a level crossing, it will be necessary to close the road for about eight hours to reconstruct the section of uprooted railway line that crosses the road.
“BBR is working with the relevant authorities in connection with the notices and permits that are needed for a road closure. In the meantime, work will continue on the rest of the damaged railway track.”
She said assessors from BBR and the customer whose cargo was damaged were still working out the damage to rolling stock and to the cargo, some of which could only be done once the damaged rolling stock had been lifted.
“It is too early, therefore, to be able to quantify the costs the accident has caused. There is also the business lost due to the closure of the line to factor in,” Moyo said.
Two locomotives, the caboose, six wagons and the containers in the wagons were damaged in the accident.
“BBR would like to appeal to all road users to exercise extreme caution at level crossings in order to ensure there is no train approaching before driving across it.
“If there is an approaching train, it is always safest to wait for the train to pass before proceeding across the level crossing,” Moyo said.
An independent railway consultant said damages in Beitbridge could easily run into millions of dollars.
“Bringing those cranes here alone runs into hundreds of thousands and the amount of man hours there does not come cheap,” said a railway accidents expert, speaking on conditions of anonymity.