THE National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) is facing a crisis owing to the incompatibility of railway equipment received under the US$400 million Diaspora Infrastructure Development Group (DIDG) deal.
By Nkululeko Sibanda
Sources at the company told the Zimbabwe Independent some of the equipment has not been used since delivery in February this year.
There was pomp and fanfare when the equipment arrived, with some analysts saying it could mark a change in fortunes for the troubled railway company, which plays an important role in the economy.
NRZ general manager Lewis Mukwada acknowledged there were “some” challenges with part of the consignment.
“Out of the consignment of 10 locomotives we received, there are some that are in use. We have deployed four of those on the Harare-Bulawayo section. The challenge is that some of them are heavy and they can’t move on some of our sections,” Mukwada said.
According to sources, there are compatibility issues that were affecting the use of the equipment on Zimbabwe’s railway lines.
“The wagons and coaches, some of which were delivered in February, have not been used on any day. The challenge is that their thickness and weight is not compatible with the railway line used in Zimbabwe,” said a source.
Another source said, technically, the specifications of the wagons and coaches acquired from Transnet of South Africa as part of the DIDG deal were not matching, making it difficult for the NRZ to run them on Zimbabwe’s railway line.
“South Africa and other countries in the region have upgraded their systems from the 45kgs on a metre specification for their rail equipment to about 54kgs per metre in terms of the weight on their railway,” an NRZ official said.
“In Zimbabwe, we are still using the 45kg per metre specifications and it is difficult for us to move these wagons and coaches from South Africa because they are very heavy. Our railway lines are not made to that specification.”
Transport and Infrastructural Development minister Jorum Gumbo, in a recent interview, said he was not aware of the so-called challenges.
He said he only knew that the entire region used a similar gauge of rail network, something he argued discounted the possibility of a challenge arising out of the DIDG equipment.
“Well, I don’t know where those people that give you such information are getting it. All I know is that the railway in the Southern African region is made in such a way that all the rail equipment fits the same size of the railway line, Zimbabwean equipment included,” Gumbo said.
“In any case, the equipment we got from the DIDG/Transnet deal is second hand. It is equipment that is on loan.
Ours, the one we should be getting from South Africa as part of the DIDG deal, is new. The equipment, which includes wagons, coaches, and locomotives, is being manufactured as we speak.”
Meanwhile, Gumbo said the full revival of the NRZ into a world-class facility might not happen as fast as stakeholders perceive. He said the company requires about US$2 billion for capacitation.
“We have only agreed on a deal of US$400 million with DIDG and Transnet that will see us making the NRZ to start functioning again,” Gumbo said.
“In our projections, we are looking at between U$1,7 billion to US$2 billion as an injection to make the NRZ what it should be, looking at developments that are happening in other countries in the region,” Gumbo said.
He added that government was hoping the new equipment being manufactured in South Africa would be the real game changer for the NRZ.
“DIDG and Transnet have loaned us 200 wagons, 37 coaches and 14 locomotives. These locomotives and machinery have now instilled life into NRZ. They are now operating. The idea was to say let us start operating NRZ so that we can now talk about getting more machinery and improve on our communication systems, come up with fast passenger trains, among other things, after having the operations taking place,” said the minister.
“We believe the fortunes of the NRZ will change once we get our own equipment.”