Rail services: Govt to Allow Private Players

GOVERNMENT plans to open up rail services to private players and review current regulatory policies governing railways in a move that could bring competition to the ailing National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ).

This was outlined in the five-year economic recovery plan, 2010-2015 Medium Term Plan (MTP), aimed at stimulating the economy and restoring human rights and the rule of law.

According to the 212-page draft, government is considering “a separate body to own/operate infrastructure while the rail services are opened up to a number of sector players for a fee”.

The document, which is a follow up to the Short Term Emergency Recovery Programme (Sterp), seeks to open up the running of the country’s 3 077 km rail network to other players.

The document says NRZ performance has been on a decline over the past decade due to inadequate locomotive power and rolling stock capacity constraints resulting from lack of funding.

The rail infrastructure, which includes signalling and telecommunications systems, would be rehabilitated.

However, in December Finance minister Tendai Biti told parliament that the railway system is collapsing and the World Bank said Zimbabwe should close some parts of the network.

“Studies by a team of experts from the World Bank recently say we should shut down at least two-thirds of the network because it is a disaster in waiting,” said Biti.

The revival of the rail infrastructure is pivotal to the country’s economic turnaround programme as investors require such infrastructure if they were to pump money into the economy.

Critical lack of resources is hampering the maintenance and replacement of ageing infrastructure, some of which is over 50 years old.

Vandalism has not spared the parastatal, with thieves targeting electric cables and signalling equipment. This has led to electric locomotives being suspended.

The parastatal has also been hit by a spate of accidents over the last few years as a result of ageing or vandalised signalling equipment.

NRZ is said to require at least US$274 million to invest in new equipment and expand its network.

Biti allocated US$16,7 million to revive the country’s rail network.

The parastatal plays a major role in the transportation of goods and materials for the mining, manufacturing and agricultural industries.

Currently the NRZ is operating at between 30% and 50% of its capacity because of a myriad of challenges.

Its also plays a pivotal role in linking other landlocked countries with ports in South Africa.

Rail infrastructure expansion programme including construction of new links to provide a shorter route to and from seaports and regional countries would be explored.

The 2010-2015 MTP, submitted to the World Bank and other international donor organisations recently, details strategies and projections that have been made by the inclusive government.

According to the draft, the government intends to establish a “vibrant market and private sector driven economy” which will be funded mainly by the public and private sector through Public Private Partnerships involving banks, investors and the government.

 

Nqobile Bhebhe

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