GOVERNMENT’S failure to repair or replace ageing equipment has cost the beleaguered National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) almost US$17 million in accidents since January this year, expenses which experts say could have been avoided.
Hazel Ndebele/Wongai Zhangazha
Engineers who have worked closely with NRZ and government this week told the Zimbabwe Independent that most of train accidents that took place this year were a result of the tenuous manual operation of most of the equipment at the parastatal.
The engineers, who preferred anonymity, blamed the reluctance of NRZ to implement advice from private engineers that it must use high-level technology in operating goods and passenger trains, citing its continued use of manual operation of signals and facing point (change of direction of travel) as the major causes of rail accidents.
Last month two NRZ goods trains, one carrying containers and another granite rocks, collided head-on at Bromley Siding near Melfort along the Harare–Mutare Railway line, killing at least three people and seriously injuring two.
This week the trains involved in the accident were still stuck at the scene, reportedly posing a threat to villagers, animals and the surrounding environment.
An engineer said the accident cost NRZ about US$9 million as each engine costs about US$3 million.
“In July there was an accident where derailment took place in Mabvuku at cost close to US$300 000. This year there were approximately six train accidents and total damages was around US$17 million,” said the source.
“What causes these accidents? There is what is called facing points. Drivers at the moment have to alight from trains to change manually, and if the driver was travelling at 60km he has to slow down while still 20km away from the radius so as to achieve the breaking distance. So when the train approaches a siding (a short stretch of railway track used to enable trains on the same line to pass), the driver has to select which track or line to use and this is done manually at the moment, which is risky.
“As for the accidents, we have proposed to NRZ a radar system where for example if a train is 20km away from a central point and another is the same distance away, but travelling to the same point, they can actually see each other in the system, and communicate the distance between them from the zone, so as to reduce speed and avoid collision.
The sources said at the moment NRZ was using the central train control system that warns train drivers from a central point of any other train approaching a junction, but the system lacks efficiency.