In 2018 state media reported that National Railways of Zimbabwe has received 7 locomotives, 108 wagons and 8 passenger coaches.
“The revival of NRZ has begun in earnest,” it enthused.
Another 92 wagons and six more locomotives would be delivered at the end of that month.
To complete that, the parastatal was reported to have begun clearing salary arrears going back for 17 months.
Add to that, government then exempted NRZ, together with Air Zimbabwe, from paying duty on spare parts.
However, barely two years down the line, the parastatal was still lamenting and barely breathing as a business unit.
NRZ spokesperson Nyasha Maravanyika said the organisation had been hiring locomotives at US$1 500 per day, which was very costly.
He said it cost them US$100 000 to convert two diesel electric D6 locomotives to mainline ones, in a move to save money.
Then Covid-19 happened and the parastatal had new bad news to cry about.
Maravanyika said the rail company would re-introduce the commuter trains after government further relaxed the COVID-19 measures.
“We cannot be super spreaders of the global pandemic and so we will be guided by the government’s guidelines on dealing with COVID-19.
“We will begin to operate when government announces its relaxation measures,” he said.
By 2020 Government had essentially washed its hands off the parastatal.
It instructed the NRZ to expeditiously flight fresh tenders for the recapitalisation project of the parastatal.
The directive followed the decision by Cabinet to revoke the US$400 million NRZ recapitalisation deal by the Diaspora Infrastructure Development Group (DIDG)-Transnet Consortium.
Transport Permanent Secretary Engineer Amos Marawa, said it was sad to note the lack of progress on the recapitalisation programme.
“I urge you to urgently finalise the matter and proceed as directed by Cabinet.
“It is thus critical to point out Government’s view and the need to continue addressing the challenges at NRZ,” he said.
Fresh Impetus to Fail
In 2021 NRZ said it was losing substantial business due to inadequate operational capacity.
It appealed to government for a bailout from the Government to beef up its ailing fleet.
NRZ board chairman, Advocate Martin Dinha, said a total overhaul was necessary if the parastatal was to impact positively on the economy.
However, a year down the line Minister of State for Presidential Affairs Jorum Gumbo was giving more rhetoric.
Government pledged to fund rehabilitation of NRZ infrastructure to the tune of $2 billion.
Gumbo said the target was to refurbish four mainline and five shunt locomotives, as well as 940 wagons.
Fast forward to two years later and it’s the year 2023, nothing of that sought has happened.
NRZ remains a struggling and antiquated steel yard from a bygone era.
A Ministry of Information propaganda drive, with Nick Mangwana “lost” in a new-old train has been here and gone.
Yet nothing nothing is happening at NRZ after all the frenetic rhetoric that things are about to get moving.
Comparisons With Europe
Amid concerns about climate change, Europe is investing heavily in trains.
The idea is to make rail more appealing, especially as an alternative to short-haul flights.
According to a Times report, train travel in Europe is on the upswing, thanks to growing interest from travelers, a renaissance in sleeper trains, and new investments in high-speed rail lines across the continent.
Between 2015 and 2019, the demand for passenger transport steadily increased, leading to an overall 10.2 % increase between 2015 and 2019, when a peak of 414 billion passenger-kilometres (pkm) was registered.
Whereas Zimbabwe can’t be expected to compete with the developed European nations the stark negative differences shows how much needs to be done.
NRZ remains the sole operator in the rail sector in the country and failing to manage that position without competition is worrying.