NATIONAL Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) is running at a loss with the continued running of passenger trains whose revenue is inadequate to sustain its operations.
The trains were re-introduced in November last year as a cheap alternative to commuter omnibuses.
NRZ general manager, Engineer Lewis Mukwada told the media at a recent interaction session that generally throughout the world, passenger trains made losses but were subsidized by governments for the community’s benefit.
However, that was not the case in Zimbabwe, as the government, which was the major shareholder in the NRZ was not pouring in funds to make up for the shortfall.
“We charged 50cents for a train ride but still with the $1 we charge now we are still running at a loss. We have said to the government, this is a shortfall we need to make up for offering this community service,” said Engineer Mukwada.
“Passenger trains are one of the obligations that government has to do for the community. For example look at the development of a growth point. You can’t put a tollgate specifically for that area but the government has to do the roads through the District Development Fund to build basic infrastructure in order to have development. Similarly, with all passenger trains, they are all loss-making.”
In 1997, the Railways Amendment Act gave the government the responsibility to fund infrastructure and also inject money towards shortfalls among other responsibilities but the NRZ boss said the government has not done much.
“So the burden is still with us for infrastructure as well as operations. That again tended to weigh down on the performance of the company and the passenger trains that we have introduced. One major argument we have put to government is it is unfair that we carry the burden alone. When we look at the air industry, CAAZ receives money from the treasury to do the airports and they are assisted. The road has assistance from the government but NRZ always carries the burden ourselves,” Engineer Mukwada noted.
He added the government has since 1997, not been in a financial position to carry out its obligations.
“Government as the shareholder has not been in a position to do that so we’ve had to try to see how else to raise money. The nature of our problems cuts across all aspects, for road transporters their main concerns is their trucks and trailers, they don’t have to worry about the roads since they pay tollgates but for us, we have to do the rail track infrastructure, rail signaling then wagons, locomotives and any anything else ancillary.”
When NRZ introduced the passenger train to Luveve, it settled on using old but usable coaches that were introduced in the 1950 and 1960s, which are now in a ‘very poor’ state.
“We just selected the best coaches and those are the ones that are running to Luveve. We also wanted to do Emganwini and sent a bill to the government that the coaches are available and they require this much to repair but we are waiting for their response. If the government gives us the money then we would repair those coaches then we do the Emganwini route,” Engineer Mukwada said.