WHEN MOTHER NATURE CAUSES HAVOC TO TRAIN OPERATIONS

The summer season is always a welcome time for Zimbabwe, whose economy is heavily reliant on agriculture.

Rains are copious during this time, providing an opportunity for farmers who rely on rain-fed agriculture to plant crops while the hot sun interspersed with rains is ideal for crop growth.

While summer rains are most welcome for the country, they always present a unique challenge to the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) as they cause weather induced disruptions, delays and cancellations of some of its train services during the course of the rainy season.

This summer season is no different from previous ones with train movement disruptions resulting in cancellations and delays of some trains causing inconveniences to passengers and customers.

During a hot summer’s day, railway tracks are susceptible to a phenomenon known as kick out. This is when heat from the sun expands the rail which then bends. As a train travels over the bent rail it derails.

Tracks are also vulnerable to wash aways during the rainy season. A wash away occur when heavy rains destroy a portion of the rail.

Both kick outs and wash aways are seasonal events which occur in the summer.

Kick outs are common between Bulawayo and Dabuka; Dabuka and Harare and also on the Somabhula-Rutenga corridor.

Train services are disrupted once there are kick outs and wash aways and resumption of service depends on the severity of the damage and time taken to repair the line.

Ballast (quarry stone) on railways is put to hold the rail in place with support from sleepers. However, some people herding cattle along railway lines are removing the ballast from place when they drive their livestock over the tracks.

This disturbance of ballast makes the tracks vulnerable to wash aways and people must always use designated level crossing points when crossing the rail to avoid tampering with ballast.

Since the start of the summer season, kickouts and wash aways have been reported on the NRZ system.

There have been more than six kickouts with repairs to tracks and wagons damaged by the resultant derailment costing the organisation a lot of money. In three of the incidences, almost seven kilometres of rail and more than 1 180 railway sleepers were damaged and had to be replaced.

The kickouts occurred at the peak of the summer hot season between 16 October and 31 December 2017.

The most serious incident of kickouts last year was on 31 December 2017, a goods train from Dabuka to Rutenga derailed after a kick out between Bannockburn and Laings near Zvishavane on the line to Rutenga.

The line was blocked for more than a week and the derailment resulted in the cancellation of trains carrying exports from Zimbabwe through Maputo Port in Mozambique while imports by train into Zimbabwe and Botswana, including diesel, were held at Rutenga while NRZ repaired the line.

However, incidents of kick outs and wash aways would be significantly reduced should the organisation’s recapitalisation process take shape.

The NRZ recapitalization exercise is expected to take shape this year as the parastatal and its prospective partner – Diaspora Investment Development Group (DIDG) / Transnet are expected to conclude the deal this first quarter.

The recapitalization process, which will cost $400million, will involve among others, the acquisition of rolling stock and the rehabilitation of the track to enable the NRZ to increase its capacity to move freight from 3 million tonnes to 6 million tonnes in the short term before reaching its designated capacity of 18 million tonnes in the long term.

 

While the NRZ unreservedly apologizes for its customers’ late arrival of goods, delays and other inconveniences, it is critical for these publics to understand and appreciate the various challenges the railways utility encounters season by season in its operations.

Despite all this, the NRZ once again would like to express its unflinching commitment to continue providing seamless, efficient, reliable, cost effective and safe transportation services to all its publics.

Zimbabwe- region’s rail control centre

Zimbabwe’s strategic location at the centre of Southern Africa makes the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) a key element in the movement of goods from the north to south.

The system straddles the crossroads of Central-Southern Africa and is the region’s prime mover of import/ export and transit traffic.

Goods destined for countries north of the Zambezi have to pass through the NRZ system as do strategic exports from Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) such as copper.

Over the years, transit cargo going to our neighbours has been increasing, showing that NRZ is important in the economic development of not just Zimbabwe, but its neighbours as well.

Because of Zimbabwe’s geographical location, the NRZ becomes a key economic enabler with an impact not only in Zimbabwe but the entire SADC region.

The NRZ is a pivotal player in terms of availing cost efficient transport for the entire sub-region as it provides a vital link between Zambia and DRC to sea ports of South Africa and Mozambique.

If the NRZ system experiences any inefficiencies, that will have a serious bearing on the competitiveness of economies to the north of Zimbabwe.

While domestic cargo has fallen over the years, transit cargo is on the rise. In 2010, the NRZ moved 405 880 tonnes of transit cargo. The figure more than doubled in 2016 to 843 820 tonnes.

The NRZ system is extensive and well developed, stretching over 2 759 route kilometers of 1 067mm gauge track (the total length including crossing loops, marshalling yards, stations and sidings is 4 319km).

With this establishment, the Rail System in Zimbabwe is well placed to develop its export markets through lines to the east to Mozambique ports of Beira and Maputo, to the south linking with Botswana Railways and South African Railways, and to the north linking with Zambia Railways and on to Congo, Angola and Tanzania.

There are flat marshaling yards at Bulawayo and Harare and a modern mechanical hump yard at the hub of the system at Dabuka near Gweru, which also has a container control centre. There is a container terminal at Lochinvar near Harare.

The main line is largely a continuous-welded-rail on concrete sleepers.

Diesel traction is in use throughout the system. Steam locomotives were withdrawn from mainline operations in July 1993, but a small number have been retained for use on special “steam safari” services, notably between Bulawayo and Victoria Falls via Hwange National Park, which attract steam enthusiasts from many parts of the world.

The Railway system includes 200 river bridges, one tunnel, 39 stations open to goods traffic, five frontier stations, 668 private sidings, 23 exchange sidings and four marshalling yards.

Zimbabwe’s geographical position makes it the hub and cornerstone of regional development in which the NRZ plays a key role of linking countries in the region and ensuring the movement of bulk goods and minerals to international markets.

NRZ Deal- Prepare for new dispensation

NRZ Deal- prepare for new dispensation

NRZ is marking its 120 years of existence with renewed optimism and confidence that it will live for another century and beyond.

The recent decision by Cabinet to approve a deal brokered with Diaspora Investment Development Group/Transnet Consortium to inject fresh capital has infused a conviction that the future of the organisation is guaranteed.

Recapitalisation of the NRZ has been on the drawing board for years but it appears the dream to turn the parastatal into a viable profit making organisation is finally becoming a reality.

NRZ management and DIDG/Transnet are now involved in negotiations to tie loose ends before the deal is finalized.

When consummated, the deal will see NRZ operational capacity improving as it will have the resources to meet demand for its services from industry.

In the 1990s, the NRZ was moving between 10.5 million and 14 million tonnes a year.

Due to deteriorating infrastructure and failure to inject capital, freight volumes declined, affecting the organisation’s performance.

The NRZ system is designed to carry 18 million tonnes of freight a year but in 2016, the organisation carried only 2.7 million tonnes.

At the time when freight volumes were high, the parastatal had 240 locomotives comprising 49 steam, 161 diesel and 30 electric. The steam and electric locos have since been decommissioned while only 60 diesel locos are in service.

In terms of wagons, in June 1996, the NRZ had 10 799 wagons of different types but at present about 3 500 are in use. The rest are in need of repairs and refurbishment.

Ten percent of the track infrastructure (about 275km) is under temporary speed restrictions and has to be rehabilitated.

The $400m to be injected by investors will be used towards repair and refurbishment of infrastructure and equipment including some of the broken down locomotives, wagons and passengers coaches.

Locos which have reached the end of their service life will be overhauled to give them an additional 10 years of service.

Seven hundred and sixty eight wagons and 162 coaches are earmarked to be refurbished using part of the $400million.

In addition, the money will also be used to buy 24 new mainline locomotives and 10 shunt locomotives. The track will be rehabilitated to remove speed restrictions thus ensuring faster movement of goods and passengers.

Once the initial $400 million is injected, the drive towards operational capacity for the NRZ will start in earnest thus asserting the organisation to reclaim its position as the preferred mover of bulk commodities.

 

DIDG/Transnet Consortium was selected after a rigorous exercise which included a pre-bid conference attended by representatives of more than 80 local, regional and international companies.

Six companies were later shortlisted as having met the bid requirements with DIDG/Transnet consortium emerging the eventual winner.

 

Prioritising workers’ welfare

The National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) is one of the first companies to realise the impact HIV could have on its workforce and came up with a comprehensive HIV and Aids workplace policy. The organisation established a section within the Medical Branch to deal specifically with HIV and AIDS issues and started a programme to treat and educate workers on HIV.

The NRZ HIV and Aids programme started in 1992.  The acting HIV and Aids Programme Officer, Mr Dewa Kondo, said the HIV and Aids Programme was started to raise awareness and manage loss of productive man hours.
“It was realised that HIV and Aids was having a negative impact on the company. Affected workers could not come to work and sought treatment outside since NRZ did not have suitable facilities. Production time was greatly affected as some requested off sick days, hence the reduction in time at work”. Mr Kondo said the organisation had made great strides in ensuring a healthy workforce through its workplace HIV and Aids programme.

“It is very expensive to lose an employee. The organisation cannot employ and train new workers yearly because it is an inconvenience. Having our own facilities ensured that workers would be treated on time and be educated on good health practices. “We now do campaigns to educate workers on health. “Another benefit is that workers will be healthy enough to work productively during the required hours, hence productivity is expected. “A healthy worker has more potential in terms of productivity”. Mr Kondo said that currently NRZ does not have donors sponsoring these programmes.

“We are grateful to the Swedish International Development Agency (SIda) as they donated a vehIcle that made it easy for the programme to be undertaken throughout the railway community.” He said even without a donor, the NRZ HIV and Aids programme was progressing quite well. The NRZ has plans to start providing Anti-Retro-Viral (ARV) drugs at its health centres. “The NRZ Health department has plans to start distributing ARVs to its employees as well as the community at large. “So far, the distribution is being done in Hwange and Dete.

“We want to create partnerships with the government because ARVs are obtained through the government.
“This will enable the NRZ medical centres to directly take ARVs from the National Pharmaceutical Company of Zimbabwe (Natpharm) as registered centres. We are also planning to formally train nurses in HIV and Anti-Retro Viral Therapy (ART), and Peer Educators in Opportunistic Infections and ART. “This will help the health department with up-to-date information”.

The National Aids Council (NAC), the custodian of the HIV and Aids campaigns and programmes in the country, is on record calling corporate organisations like NRZ to initiate HIV and Aid programmes for their workers as well as coming up with sustainable HIV and Aids workplace policies.