Inside the coaches of mothballed NRZ fleet

Source: Inside the coaches of mothballed NRZ fleet – DailyNews Live

Bridget Mananavire      30 January 2017

HARARE – With over 50 percent of its locomotive fleet down, the National
Railways of Zimbabwe NRZ) locomotive yard has become a favourite location
for image makers such as photographers and videographers.

The rusty, broken down coaches and the unkempt grass are visually
extraordinary, picture perfect in fact.
Urban grooves musicians Tererai Mugwadi and Maskiri have even used the
breathtaking and unforgettable idyllic setting of the mothballed train
service to record a video of their hit track NaMwari – with the footage a
stark reminder of the devastation caused by the hived track-lines.
The contrast between this 2015 video and Oliver Mtukudzi’s song, Right
Direction, which showed a more attractive and efficient rail service in
the 80s, provides proof that the country’s railway system is now a pale
shadow of itself.
While in the past people would enjoy the experience of riding a train,
these days people use the train station to get their family pictures

The station gives that diamond-in-the-rough feel, the contrast between
rust, unkempt grass and rugged look.

The abandoned rail lines make people outstanding, it gives an almost
vintage setting and it’s a perfect setting, according to a professional

After a decade of impasse, the ghost fleet is slowly dwindling as the
train trucks are towed out one-by-one for scrapping. About half the
retired trucks are already gone; by the end of 2017, the entire fleet
could just be a memory.

The Daily News on Sunday gained unprecedented access to the decaying train
service in Harare, spending several days at a time photographing and
documenting the mothballed service.

According to information from NRZ workers, the public is now sceptical of
riding the train, a situation which has led the company to cut down on
passenger train frequencies.

It’s a clear signal concerning the de-industrialisation of Zimbabwe.

“We do not get money from the passenger trains, so we only have the
service two or three times a week.

“We have the Harare to Bulawayo one, and that one inomhanya (offers
service on) Tuesday, Friday and Sunday.

“And another that services the Harare to Mutare route – on Mondays,
Wednesdays and Sundays – they leave at night,” a worker who preferred
anonymity told the Daily News on Sunday.

“We now get most of our earnings from the freight business.”

Offering a reasonable $5 trip to Bulawayo in the economy class and $10 in
first class, has failed to attract customers. The few running coaches are
often stinky from mould, mildew, and decay, and the toilets filthy.

The inefficiencies, deterioration of coaches, and lack of maintenance has
kept people away from the harrowing trip.

President Robert Mugabe’s administration has done little to address the
crumbling train service. The service has sat unused and largely forgotten.

At the turn of the millennium, Zimbabwe plunged into crisis when
controversial economic policies and seizures of white-owned commercial
farms led to the collapse of the country’s agriculture-based economy.

The crisis still affects Zimbabwe, where industry operates at less than 40
percent capacity and more than 80 percent of the country’s $4,1bn budget
is spent on salaries.

Even though Parliament ordered central government to address the railway
situation, nothing has been done in the past decade.

NRZ, which needs at least $2 billion in the long-term to restore full
viability, has been struggling to pay more than 5 700 workers and
refurbish locomotives due to lack of capital.

According to the Auditor-General Mildred Chiri’s latest report on
parastatals, NRZ losses are running into hundreds of millions of dollars.
Chiri described it as “operationally handicapped”.

“…the railway is commercially insolvent, with current liabilities
exceeding current assets by $170 million.

“This net current liability position is also a deterioration from the
prior year amount of $131 million. The board and management should
consider reassessing the ability of the railways to continue operating as
going concern,” Chiri’s report read.

“The board and management should develop and implement effective operating
strategies to restore the organisation to health as a matter of urgency.

“Without qualifying my opinion, I draw your attention to the fact that NRZ
is in a net current liability position of $170 million (2014: $131m).

“The national railways also incurred a net loss of $40m (2014: $31m)
contributing to a cumulative loss of $276m.

“This cumulative loss and net current liability position, along with other
matters indicate the existence of a material uncertainty that may cast
significant doubt over the national railways’ ability to continue as a
going concern.”

The report established that the parastatal was generating annual revenue
of $91,2 million, but incurring costs of $103 million.

The passenger unit had annual revenues of $3,2 million, with costs at over
three times at $10,9 million.

This comes as government is failing to revive the parastatal due to lack
of funding. Donors seem to be sceptical to come on board.

Government has said a comprehensive capitalisation programme for the NRZ
has remained elusive, with Parliament urging it to prioritise reviving the
parastatal due to its strategic importance in the economy.

The State-owned enterprise, battling to retire a $144 million debt, owes
the workers more than $68 million.

While NRZ is groaning, failing to raise cash for recapitalisation, these
efforts have fell through, with recent talks with the Development Bank of
Southern Africa for $700 million to bankroll its rehabilitation
collapsing, after the undue sacking of its former chairman, Alvord
Mabhena, by Transport minister, Joram Gumbo.

Larry Mavhima has replaced Mabhena, a died-in-the-wool transport executive
with an impeccable track record.

In the meantime, the ailing institution is groaning under operational
problems owing to ageing infrastructure and lack of funding.

A report released by the Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare
portfolio committee last year noted that there was urgent need for the
government to find effective, long-term solutions to reverse the downturn
at NRZ.

NRZ, the report added, should modernise its old equipment, which has
created high maintenance costs that result in noncompetitive pricing and
services as compared to road transport.

At its peak, NRZ employed about 20 000 workers and moved 18 million tonnes
of freight annually. The parastatal has 3 500 operational wagons for
moving cargo but most are ageing or in a state of disrepair.

NRZ now moves less than 100 000 tonnes per week, the effects of industrial
collapse and poor rail infrastructure.

The NRZ is set to launch a forensic audit as the parastatal seeks
solutions to problems that have left the passenger and goods rail
freighter in dire straits.

It claims it has purchased 31 wagons worth $2,9 million from China to
replace part of its ageing fleet, according to transport secretary Munesu

Central bank deputy governor Kupukile Mlambo has implored government to
resuscitate NRZ to promote exports and ease of doing business.

“To move goods from Zimbabwe to export centres; we need a good
infrastructure and our infrastructure has deteriorated over the last
years, so we need good railroads.

“We need a functioning NRZ and so on. We are the most expensive country in
terms of financing exports because of our infrastructure,” Mlambo told a
recent ZimTrade exporters’ conference.


  • comment-avatar
    Chiwaridza 5 years ago

    The railway system in 1917 worked 100% better than the railway system in 2017 in Southern Africa. Another nationalized entity bites the dust adding to the list of other Government owned businesses, to name a few – Air Zimbabwe, Zesa, Hwange Colliery, Zisco Steel and Zupco. When will the Zimbabwean people wipe the sh..t out of their eyes and ouster these incompetent thugs, murderers and thieves from Government.