THE struggling National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) has expressed concern over the increase of vandalism of its points machines, resulting in train movement disruptions and derailments.
BY NQOBANI NDLOVU
The points machines are used to direct trains from one track to another at stations, sidings and transit yards.
“If the machines are tampered with, there is a danger of the points failing to open or close properly, resulting in wheels going off the tracks, leading to derailments,” NRZ spokesperson Nyasha Maravanyika said.
“Members of the public are advised that tampering with power-operated points has negative consequences as they can result in loss of human life due to derailments while movement of people and cargo will be delayed awaiting repair of the machines.”
The acts of vandalism are taking place in both urban and remote areas, he said.
“More than 20 points machines have been vandalised since the beginning of the year,” Maravanyika said, adding NRZ is incurring huge costs in replacing the vandalised points machines.
“Repairing and replacing the machines is very costly to the organisation which is being forced to divert resources for other projects to repair damage caused by a few individuals out to enrich themselves at the expense of the national interest,” Maravanyika said.
“If a points machine is damaged, it costs up to $25 000 to replace. Most of the points machines are being damaged beyond repair as the vandals try to get the fittings inside.”
The company recently introduced a whistleblower programme which rewards people reporting cases of vandalism to its infrastructure or help protect railway assets.
In June this year, NRZ paid school fees for a Form One pupil at Entumbane Secondary school, Nozipho Sibanda through the whistle blower programme after she alerted authorities of a broken railway track near Sawmills, thus averting a potential derailment.
While ready statistics on the number of derailments the NRZ records per any given time are not available, the spectre of derailments becomes high during the rainy season when track ballast is washed away.
The track ballast is the crushed stone which form the track-bed upon which the railroad lies.
Derailments are also as a result of changing weather patterns (extreme hot weather and the cold), causing the rail to expand or contract, in the process moving out of position.
The NRZ has said it requires over $2 billion for rehabilitation and total overhaul of its ageing rail infrastructure, buying new equipment and modernising it.
The NRZ is now awaiting the finalisation of a $400 million recapitalisation deal with the Diaspora Infrastructure Development Group (DIDG) and Transnet Consortium.
The NRZ recapitalisation projects involves the rehabilitation and renewal of plant, equipment, rolling stock, signalling and telecommunications infrastructure and the supporting information technology (IT) systems.
The project will also see the repairing and rehabilitation of infrastructure and equipment such as locomotives, wagons and coaches as well as phased modernisation of train control system.