The state-owned National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) has been blamed for the decline in Zimbabwe's mineral exports because of its dilapidated fleet and equipment.
NRZ, the country's largest rail company has not replaced most of its equipment since it was installed in 1897, having outlived its lifespan of 100 years.
Last year, the government parastatal embarked on a drive to raise funding to renovate its collapsing infrastructure, but the begging bowl is still far from full, leaving the NRZ unable to secure key signaling equipment, the absence of which, experts say, has contributed to an increase in the number of accidents.
The state of the railway service mirrors the economic decline in Zimbabwe, once the busy hub of trans-sub-Saharan trade. As is the case in the rest of the country itself, corruption, mismanagement
and neglect have contributed to the rapid deterioration of what used to be one of Africa's most efficient rail systems.
According to a report released this week by the Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe (MMCZ), a government-owned body, statistics have shown that the steady decline of the NRZ is proving increasingly detrimental to the country's export trade.
"Out of a planned movement of 1,155,760 metric tonnes of mineral exports, NRZ managed to move only 498,636 metric tonnes in 2007, a 57% decline on the projections and a performance significantly lower than its 2006 ratings," MMCZ Chief Executive Officer, Onisimo Moyo, said in the report.
High carbon ferrochrome and platinum group metals contribute over 50% of the country's export revenue.
The report went on to say, in 2005, NRZ required 108 main-line locomotives to meet demand but only 60 were available. It had mustered 126 in 1999, dropping to 112 in 2000, 99 in 2001 and 83 in 2002. There has been no major investment in motive power since then.
"The NRZ rolling stock has continued to decline and urgent support is required for this vital institution, which is one of the key pillars for the economy's turnaround," Moyo said.
In response, the NRZ blames its woes on foreign currency shortages. The company says it is adopting new measures to curb accidents by organizing annual refresher courses for drivers and other staff. This additional training would determine their future with the parastatal.
But the NRZ knows it cannot afford to sack personnel even if they are found wanting. The parastatal is losing hordes of its most experienced staff to South Africa, which is recruiting skilled manpower for its Gautrain transport project for the 2010 Soccer World Cup.
Under the government's Public Private Partnerships initiative, introduced in 2005 to encourage partnerships with private business, the NRZ was identified as one of the 58 projects to be executed under the initiative. But there have been no takers.
Source: The Sunday Standard, Botswana