Zim railway network faces total collapse

ZIMBABWE’S entire rail network faces collapse because of neglect, dealing a blow to the country’s economic recovery efforts, Mike Karakadzai, the general manager of the state-owned National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ), has said.

Karakadzai on Wednesday said the government should speed up the opening of the country’s rail sector to private players to ease the burden on NRZ, which is the sole operator of the rail system.

“NRZ has limited resources to maintain the rail network which is in bad shape,” Karakadzai said. “The rail network is fast deteriorating and on the verge of collapse due to lack of periodic maintenance. As NRZ we don’t have enough financial resources to undertake such a huge task. If other players come on board, the burden of maintaining the rail network would be shared.”

Zimbabwe’s rail network, once a hub of the regional transport network, stretches for 3 077km. So dilapidated is the network that the World Bank in December recommended the closure of some lines.

Karakadzai said his firm was lobbying government to quicken the process of inviting new players because, unlike the road sector, the NRZ was receiving no support from treasury.

“The trading environment is uneven,” he said. “Currently the state is contributing heavily towards maintenance of roads, but for us we are in it alone yet we have no resources for it. So the players in the road sector are in some way subsidised by government.”

He said private players would be charged an access fee similar to airport tax and port tax. All players, including NRZ, would contribute funds that would be channeled towards maintenance of infrastructure, according to a plan being lobbied for by NRZ.

Government has drawn up its own plan to revive the rail sector.
Under the 2010-2015 Medium Term Plan, which the government is using to benchmark economic recovery, the state should review current regulatory policies governing railways in a move that could bring competition to the loss-making NRZ.

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

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

Nqobile Bhebhe

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