By Mkhululi Ncube
There has been a slow uptake of the commuter train services in Bulawayo since their re-introduction two weeks ago, with the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) citing the early time table as the major factor for low volumes.
The NRZ re-introduced the two commuter trains on November 2 at $16 per trip.
The trains ply the City-Cowdray Park and City-Emganwini routes.
The City-Emganwini train leaves the Bulawayo Station at 5AM and arrives at Khami at 5.30AM and on return leaves Khami at 6AM and arrives at the Bulawayo Station at 6.50AM.
For the evening run, it leaves Bulawayo Station at 5.20PM arriving at Khami at 6.20pm. The return trip leaves Khami at 6.45PM and arrives in the city at 7.15PM.
The morning service to Cowdray Park leaves Bulawayo Station at 4.10AM and arrives at Pasi Pasi at 5.25AM. It leaves for the city at 5.45AM arriving at Bulawayo Station at 7AM.
The commuter train service runs from Monday to Friday only.
NRZ public relations manager Mr Nyasha Maravanyika yesterday said the City-Cowdray Park route was doing much better than the Emgwanwini route.
“We have witnessed a low but gradual increase in terms of patronage. For the Cowdray Park Commuter train we are now averaging 600 passengers but before Covid-19 outbreak since 2018 we used to have more than 1 000 passengers. We suspect the Covid-19-related stop affected us,” he said.
He said the Emganwini route started on a very low note but the numbers are picking up.
“The new route which we last had 20 years ago started with 53 passengers on the second of December but it picked to over two hundred passengers now. We believe people are still acclimatising to the route and once we near the festive season I think we will see more and more passengers,” said Mr Maravanyika.
“In the morning people cannot catch the early hours of 5 o’clock especial in Emgwanwini but in Cowdray Park people are slightly used to it. But in the evening the situation changes as we have more people coming in. Maybe they will get used to the time table with time,” said Mr Maravanyika.
He said it will be difficult to re-adjust the times as they need to accommodate the freight trains using the two routes.
Mr Maravanyika said their timetables also allow for people to walk from the station to their workstations.
He also appealed to the public to report any vandalism of the railway property which could affect the trains.
“To protect the routes, we urge members of the public to report any people they see tempering around the track. If they don’t it could affect the trains which will delay people. We must own the trains and the infrastructure,” he said.
Mr Maravanyika appealed to Government to support the NRZ to increase its capacity so that it can introduce more commuter trains in other cities.
“We are planning to introduce commuter trains in Harare but the issue of capacity is affecting us. The Government must come in as a major shareholder. We take a cue from what it has done with the Zupco subsidy scheme. The Government can support us either by availing diesel or a grant.
“All over the world commuter trains are not profitable it is done for community and social service. We are doing this for the Government hence it must support us so that the two major cities – Bulawayo and Harare – are serviced well,” he said.
The NRZ spokesperson said the parastatal needs between 50-60 coaches to service two Bulawayo routes and three Harare routes.
“For Bulawayo routes we have 20 coaches with a capacity of 100 people per coach. If there is no Covid-19 we can take more. Each route has ten coaches but the Emganwini routes is using 3-4 coaches at the moment because of few passengers,” he said. The Chronicle