Zim to benefit from regional railway deal

HARARE - Zimbabwe is expected to benefit from a deal to construct a railway line passing through the country from Durban, South Africa, to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The railway line — to also go through Zambia — will allow copper-rich southern African countries to increase exports through Durban.

It will also boost trade and enable more efficient and cost-effective movement of goods across borders.

National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ), South Africa’s Transnet, Zambian Railways, Societe Nationale des Chemins de Fer du Congo (SNCC) and Beitbridge-Bulawayo Railway have been negotiating the terms of the deal since last year.

Nyameka Madikizela, Transnet’s Freight Rail international business executive manager, said it had been realised that a unified, cross-border railway system could be devised only by identifying inefficiencies obstructing cargo flows.

“By February, we should have signed the agreement. We all want to start as soon as possible,” Madikizela said.

A joint operating centre will be formed with the task of finding alignment among the partners to articulate cooperation.

“We have to know what volumes the network can handle now.

“If we take cargo from Congo to Durban … our customers would like some certainty,” she said.

After the deal is signed, the joint operating centre will begin work immediately and develop co-ordinated traffic plans for the five operators.

Madikizela said it was not yet clear how much would need to be invested.

Fanuel Masikati, NRZ’s spokesperson, could not disclose details of the deal, but referred businessdaily to the Southern African Railways Association, who could not be reached for comment.

A similar programme initiated last August to improve trade on the Maputo corridor — between South Africa, Swaziland and Mozambique — has yielded gains.

This comes as Zimbabwe’s rail network — stretching 3 077km and once a hub of the region’s transport network — has dilapidated to the extent that the World Bank in 2010 recommended the closure of some lines.

In the past decade, Zimbabwe’s government has not invested in the upgrade of its transport infrastructure, including airports.

Economic experts say a well-functioning transport system is key in resuscitating the country’s moribund economy.

Unfortunately, NRZ — the country’s sole rail operator is on the brink of collapse, failing to meet market demands and retool among other challenges.

The agricultural, manufacturing, mining and energy sectors have resorted to costly road transport.

The state-run NRZ is facing a serious lack of resources to maintain and replace its ageing infrastructure, some of which has been in existence for half a century.

Vandalism has also affected the parastatal.

The rail operator, currently operating at below 40 percent capacity, requires close to $300 million to invest in new equipment and rehabilitate its network.

Government has indicated interest in licencing private rail operators under various initiatives such as the built operate and transfer system.
John Kachembere/With Business Day

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