By Mugove Tafirenyika
HARARE – A Harare-bound National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) passenger train power coach was gutted by a mysterious fire at Somerby Siding Station near Snake World just outside Harare yesterday.
The incident, which occurred around ten o’clock in the morning left residents of Snake World farming community shell shocked as the locomotive travelled from as far as Kintyre Estates before the driver of the train realised it.
“We noticed that the train was burning and almost everyone who was in the township signalled the driver who seemed not to notice to stop,” said Nelson Ndarasika an eyewitness.
Ndarasika added that the fire could have been fatal if it had occurred far from human settlements as passengers did not realise their train had caught fire as it was raining heavily.
He said the fire did not go as far as the passenger coach hence there were no injuries with only one woman who appeared to have been in shock being taken away in a municipal ambulance.
“People from Kintyre Estates called us to say that they had also noticed that the train was smoking from inside but could not inform the driver.
“Even when we called to him, he did not seem to hear us at first and when he eventually stopped, that is when the passengers began to panic with some trying to jump through the windows before they were calmed down”.
When the Daily News crew arrived at the scene, the Harare Municipality Fire Brigade was struggling to put out the fire that burnt the coach beyond repair.
As the firemen made frantic efforts, reinforcements were being sent in to help put the fire out, taking them close to an hour to extinguish.
The train was travelling from Bulawayo.
Fanwell Masikati, the NRZ public relations manager said they suspected an electrical fault in the coach which houses the electricity generator for the whole train adding that investigations to establish the exact cause of the fire were already underway.
“Normally, when accidents of that nature happen, we carry out thorough investigations to establish what exactly caused the fire and that process is already underway.
“We are happy that no one was injured and that the passenger coach arrived safely,” said Masikati.
This comes as the NRZ is cash-strapped and failing to service the 50-plus-year-old fleet that is now obsolete and no longer offers competitive service.
The average life of a railway asset is 25 years whether it is utilised or not.
Last year, Lewis Mukwada, the NRZ acting general manager, told the Amos Midzi-chaired parliamentary portfolio committee that they urgently needed $10 billion for re-capitalisation as well as offsetting a $144 million debt owed to service providers and employees. Daily News