THE $400 million National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) recapitalisation project has put the limelight on the country’s rail utility as it gears for revitalisation.
BY NYASHA MARAVANYIKA
Some people are asking if the NRZ is still operational because they have not seen a train travelling along railway lines in the open country for a long time.
To others, the NRZ is the passenger train service.
If they don’t see a locomotive pulling passenger coaches on a regular basis, they think the NRZ is dead or on its death bed.
When one introduces themselves as an NRZ employee, the first question to them is whether the trains are still running. In most instances this would be in reference to passenger trains.
In terms of image, the passenger train service is the most publicly visible business unit of the organisation, portraying 97% of its image and publicity, while freight trains are highly invisible.
The trend is reversed when it comes to revenue generation. More than 70% of the revenue is from freight services.
Passenger services is a distant third with 3% of revenue having been overtaken in recent years by the Real Estate section, which is in charge of the parastatal’s vast array of properties ranging from commercial buildings, houses and land which are rented out.
Statistics from annual audited reports show that the freight business unit has consistently outperformed passenger services yet when most people talk of the NRZ, they will be mostly be referring to its passenger services, despite its minimal contribution to the performance of the company.
A decline in business has seen the NRZ reducing the number of its train services both passenger and freight.
The NRZ, whose service is demand-driven, has been affected by the slump in the economy. Most of its traditional customers have closed shop or have reduced production, affecting the volume of freight which is carried by the NRZ.
Ziscosteel, which used to be the NRZ’s single largest customer, accounting for 30% of its business, is no more.
The rail network is designed to transport 18 million tonnes of cargo annually, but is currently carrying just under 2,8 million tonnes a year.
The organisation runs 30 passenger trains a week. There are 14 passenger trains between Bulawayo and Victoria Falls, six between Bulawayo-Harare-Bulawayo and Harare-Mutare-Harare. There are also four trains on the Bulawayo-Chiqualaquala-Bulawayo route.
Between Victoria Falls and Bulawayo, two trains run in either direction every day of the week, where they provide an essential service to villagers who live far away from the Bulawayo-Victoria Falls road and the train is their only means of transport.
Freight trains are also operating on a frequency in tandem with the decline in business and organisational challenges.
While the NRZ system can support a maximum of 202 trains a day on various sections dotted across the country, it is currently operating at about 40% capacity.
This compares to the country’s industrial utilisation capacity of 47% during 2016, as measured by the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries.
On any one day, 80 trains crisscross the network. The section with the highest design capacity is Lochinvar-Dabuka with 18 trains going in each direction every day. At present six trains go in the opposite directions each day.
However, due to scheduling, most people miss the freight trains because they travel in the dead of the night when they are sleeping.
In a bid to overcome the challenges and become a giant it once was, the NRZ is gearing itself for increased business once the recapitalisation process is completed.
Once successfully implemented, the recapitalisation project will see more trains traversing the country as the NRZ will have the capacity to ferry more cargo.
It is projected that once the $400 million that the organisation is seeking has been raised and invested, freight volumes will move up to 6 million tonnes a year as the company begins its reawakening process to be the major mover of goods it was in the yester-year. This will restore its pivotal role of linking the country’s industries for economic development and prosperity.
Nyasha Maravanyika is the NRZ public relations manager. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org