By Leonard Ncube
VICTORIA FALLS – The National Railways of Zimbabwe has received a major boost in its efforts to turnaround its fortunes after the government finally secured a $750 million loan facility from the Development Bank of South Africa (DBSA) for its rehabilitation.
Transport and Infrastructural Development Minister Obert Mpofu, told journalists after touring the Victoria Falls International Airport on Monday that the government and DBSA would this week conclude the necessary paperwork as the bank had agreed to finance the recapitalisation of the struggling parastatal.
“A lot is being done, we’re talking to DBSA who have agreed to fund the rehabilitation of the entire railway system. It’s a done deal and in the next few days we will be getting the paperwork finalised and start working on the project,” said Mpofu.
The NRZ has in the last few years been operating at minimal capacity and is failing to move its cargo due to obsolete equipment. Its workers have also gone for several months without pay.
Mpofu said the DBSA loan would cover rehabilitation of the railway line and locomotives.
“The $750 million is for the total rehabilitation of the parastatal encompassing the railway line and the locomotives which is however an ongoing exercise.
“We’ve been experiencing a lot of accidents and we’re sensitive to the plight of this institution and something will be done soon. I’m making this public statement because of the position that we’re at. The revival of industry is also linked to a revived NRZ and railway system while the obsolete equipment in the parastatal has also threatened tourism in the country following the tram accident in Victoria Falls four months ago,” he said.
The Minister said they had also found an investor for the Harare-Beira Railway line whose rehabilitation was also on the cards.
“We also have interested people coming to do the Beira-Harare line. We’re finalising paperwork because the company which will do the rehabilitation has been identified,” he said.
Members of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Transport and Infrastructural Development heard in August that the 470km rail track between Bulawayo and Victoria Falls was now a death trap and needed a complete overhaul to the tune of $50 million as rampant vandalism was negatively affecting operations.
The committee also heard that the NRZ owes workers more than $55 million in unpaid salaries.
During a familiarisation tour of the NRZ’s Bulawayo facilities, the committee came face-to-face with the mounting problems at the rail company.
NRZ has recorded three train derailments on the Bulawayo-Victoria Falls line this year.
One of them killed a tourist and injured 20 others when a Victoria Falls Steam Train Company tram collided with an NRZ goods train in July. The tourists were attending the wedding of Australian millionaire Peter Holmes à Court to American photographer Alissa Everett. Aged infrastructure has been blamed for the numerous rail accidents.
Some sections of network are said to be so bad that drivers are reportedly instructed not to exceed 30 kilometres per hour on them.
Meanwhile, Mpofu said the government would go ahead with the erection of new tollgates countrywide as it is a major source of financing capital projects.
The business community in Victoria Falls complained about the Kazungula tollgate which they said was too close to the border.
“We’re worried about the Kazungula tollgate which is three kilometres from another one at the border, we wish it could be moved towards Victoria Falls,” said Zimbabwe Council of Tourism representative Barbara Murasiranwa.
In response, Mpofu said the government would consult on the new site. Chronicle