Leonard Ncube, Victoria Falls Reporter
THE National Railways of Zimbabwe has seen passenger volumes rising by 300 percent since the beginning of the year as more people turn to cheap rail transport due to high cost of travelling by road.
NRZ operates three daily and two weekly inter-city passenger train services countrywide. The daily train return routes are Bulawayo-Victoria Falls, Bulawayo-Harare, Mutare-Harare while the weekly service is offered on the Bulawayo-Chiredzi and Bulawayo-Chikwalakwala routes.
NRZ public relations manager Mr Nyasha Maravanyika said the Bulawayo-Victoria Falls and Harare-Mutare were the company’s cash cow.
“Passenger volumes have generally increased by between 274 and 373 percent per week on our inter-city routes. Southern region volumes have gone up to 10 000 which is a 373 percent increase while the Eastern region volumes went up to 5 000 passengers which is a 274 percent increase. In the Midlands region there is a 275 percent increase to 943 passengers per week,” said Mr Maravanyika.
Southern region covers Matabeleland North, Matabeleland South and Bulawayo while the eastern region covers Harare, Manicaland and Mashonaland provinces. Midlands caters for Midlands and Masvingo provinces.
Mr Maravanyika said the Bulawayo-Victoria Falls and Harare-Mutare trains have nine coaches each on average per trip while other routes have six each. Each coach has a sitting capacity of 100 passengers.
“We have been overwhelmed by numbers since the festive season when road transporters started increasing fares. Passengers have been requesting that we add more coaches especially on the Bulawayo-Harare route. The Bulawayo-Harare route is supposed to be our flagship in terms of numbers but it’s not yet there,” he said.
A ticket between Bulawayo and Victoria Falls or Bulawayo and Harare costs $9, compared to between $35 and $60 charged by road transporters.
Mr Maravanyika said while numbers are picking up between Bulawayo and Harare, the train service was facing challenges due to vandalism of the infrastructure between Harare and Gweru. The stretch used to be electrified but was destroyed by thieves who stole copper cables and illegal panners who mine along the railway.
As a result the train moves slowly between Gweru and Harare. Mr Maravanyika bemoaned the extent of vandalism of the track especially in Kwekwe, Shurugwi, Munyati and Bindura, where signals equipment was also destroyed.
He said NRZ was pinning its hopes on closure of the $400 million recapitalisation deal signed with Diaspora Infrastructure Development Group (DIDG)/ Transnet to refurbish and in some cases overhaul locomotives, coaches and the railway line.